Vermont's congressional delegation is calling on the Obama administration to temporarily curb propane exports to drive down record high prices caused by domestic shortages.
"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 delegation wrote in a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Tuesday.
This year's propane shortage was driven by Midwest farmers' using propane to dry crops (more than four times the amount used last year) and cold winter temperatures across the country.
The shortage drove up the price for propane in Vermont by more than 15 percent over last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The average price for residential propane in Vermont has increased from $3.75 per gallon in December to $4.13 per gallon Feb. 10.
The supply shortage has forced fuel dealers in the state to travel longer distances to find the product, driving up prices but maintaining sufficient supplies to serve customers, dealers say.
Matt Cota, executive of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, says limiting exports will not solve the whole problem.
"We certainly appreciate our congressional delegation's effort to focus on the issue," he said, but "there are other opportunities to increase our supply and lower the wholesale cost."
Lifting shipping regulations that prevent transporting propane from southern ports to the Northeast, Cota said, could avert supply shortages in Vermont. The so-called Jones Act, created by lawmakers in 1920, prohibits foreign ships from transporting good between the nation's ports.
Cota says national lawmakers should waive the Jones Act, as it had after Hurricane Katrina to combat gasoline shortages.
Even if the propane makes it to New England, there needs to be a place to store it, he said.
"Propane needs more storage," Cota said. "As the amount of propane produced has grown substantially and the use of it has grown substantially, having more storage is critically important."