BURLINGTON -- With unusually cold winter weather gripping much of the nation, the Vermont congressional delegation wants the Obama administration to clamp limits on propane exports to bring down skyrocketing prices for the home heating fuel.
Calling for "urgent and decisive action," U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) asked Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to use her emergency powers to temporarily halt exports of propane. In a letter, the lawmakers sought the export curbs at a time when domestic prices of propane nationwide are 60 percent greater this winter than one year ago.
In Vermont, the average price of propane for consumers jumped to $4.13 a gallon last week, up more than 30 percent in just the past three months. Some 15 percent of all Vermont homes are heated with propane, the highest rate in New England and the second highest in the nation. Moreover, 25 percent of Vermont families and seniors eligible for home heating assistance rely on propane to heat their homes. "It is not an exaggeration to say that some of these families are faced with choosing between heating their homes and putting food on the table," the delegation letter said.
"We urge you to act quickly to temporarily restrict propane exports to increase the domestic supply of propane, which will help reduce the financial burden on poor and middle-class families across the country during this particularly cold winter," the senators and congressman wrote to Pritzker. Cold weather gripping much of the country has led to rising demand and higher propane prices even at a time when domestic production is at an all-time high. The record production has not held down consumer prices in the United States, however, because almost all of the new propane produced here is exported to more lucrative markets overseas.
The Department of Commerce has authority under the International Economic Emergency Powers Act to prohibit or curtail the export of goods when necessary to "protect the domestic economy from the excessive drain of scarce materials and to reduce the serious inflationary impact of foreign demand."
Sanders, Leahy and Welch said "the current propane crisis clearly meets those criteria, and warrants this urgent and decisive action."