On Friday afternoon, Governor Mark Dayton and members of the state’s Executive Council voted unanimously to extend Emergency Executive Order 14-02 for another 30 days. The order, initially issued by Governor Dayton on January 27, establishes a Peacetime State of Emergency in Minnesota to help relieve the severe shortage of propane and other home heating fuel supplies statewide. A peacetime emergency order cannot last longer than five days, but it may be extended by the Executive Council for up to 30 days (Minn. Stat., sec. 12.31, subdivision 2a).
At a news conference following Friday’s meeting, Governor Dayton said: “The Executive Council was convened today because the Emergency Order I signed to deal with the propane crisis in Minnesota was set to expire after five days. The Executive Council needed to meet in order to extend that order for another 30 days, which we did unanimously this afternoon. We will continue doing everything necessary to help Minnesotans get through this crisis.”
Steps Taken to Relieve the Propane Shortage
Propane Shortage Hotline – This week, the State of Minnesota established a toll-free hotline that Minnesotans affected by the propane shortage can use to ask questions or seek assistance in this time of emergency. Minnesotans with questions about the current propane situation or who are in danger of running out of heating fuel should call (800) 657-3504 in Greater Minnesota, or (651) 297-1304 in the Twin Cities. The hotline will operate Monday through Friday, from 9:00am to 4:30pm. The hotline hours have been extended throughout this weekend. Minnesotans in need of assistance can call the hotline on Saturday and Sunday between 9:00am and 4:30pm.
Emergency Executive Order – On Monday of this week, Governor Dayton issued Emergency Executive Order 14-02, declaring a Peacetime State of Emergency in Minnesota in response to a severe shortage of propane and home heating fuels statewide. The Governor called an emergency meeting of the state’s Executive Council today to extend that state of emergency for 30 days. That motion was approved unanimously by the Executive Council.
Protecting Consumers from Price Gouging – The Governor has also directed the Commissioner of Commerce to use his consumer protection authority to help guard Minnesotans from potential price gouging activities. On Wednesday, January 29, Commissioner Mike Rothman sent a letter to the propane industry concerning skyrocketing prices. It stated that he will take all necessary steps to protect consumers from potential price gouging and unlawful market manipulation. Consumers who believe they may have been the victim of price gouging are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Consumer Help Line at (651) 539-1500 or toll-free at (800) 657-3602.
Additional Financial Assistance for Consumers – Consumers who need financial assistance to pay their heating bills may also qualify for help through the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The Minnesota Department of Commerce recently announced that LIHEAP crisis payments would increase from $500 to $1,000 for applicants who heat their homes with propane and heating oil. Qualifying families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area; Minnesota has 32 local service providers. A list of local service providers and information on applying for assistance is available on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website or by calling 1-800-657-3710.
Working to Increase Propane Supplies – This week, Governor Dayton met with propane industry officials to identify immediate steps that can be taken to help resolve the propane supply and price issues. The meeting included Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, and state legislators. The Governor also joined Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation in petitioning President Obama to knock down regulatory barriers, take additional steps to alleviate the shortage, and provide expanded relief to families and agriculture producers.
Other National and Federal Measures – The American Railway Association has asked its 175 members to prioritize propane delivery by making cars available and dropping propane shipments at necessary locations. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation has established a regional emergency declaration suspending the regulatory provisions pertaining to hours of service for drivers of commercial motor vehicles transporting propane to affected Midwestern states.