Help sought for propane shortage

IRON MOUNTAIN – U.S. Rep. Dr. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, today urged President Barack Obama to help provide resources to northern Michigan families who are facing propane price increases.

“Having lived in Northern Michigan all my life, I know how tough it can be for families when they are being hit with larger than usual heating bills during the winter months. This shortage and recent spike in propane prices are making it difficult for many who are struggling in this tough economy. The fiercely cold winter we have been having has only made matters worse, especially for the neediest families. And while the reasons for the price increase are complex, I am hopeful that we can work together to help address this issue,” said Dr. Benishek, a general surgeon and Iron River native.

Dr. Benishek sent a letter to President Obama asking that his administration to ensure adequate emergency contingency funds are available for individuals struggling to pay higher home heating bills. Recent propane shortages have pushed propane prices to over $6 per gallon, he said. Governor Rick Snyder has declared a state of emergency in Michigan in response to the propane shortage.

Dan Harrington, owner of U.P. Propane in Iron Mountain, said today that he has been able to service current customers, but cannot take on new accounts because of the shortage.

“As of Friday, the wholesale price of propane was $5.98 a gallon, if you could get it. I don’t know what it’s going to be today,” Harrington said this morning.

Last week, Harrington was able to purchase propane from the Duluth area, and he is looking to buy it from Saskatchewan this week. They may also have to drive to Houston, Texas, he said.

“Prices have gone through the roof,” he said. “The market is so volatile.”

“A tank used to cost $12,000 this fall and it costs $50,000 to $60,000 now,” he said. “Many wholesalers have gone to a cash-only basis.”

“We’re pretty much running our transport 24-hours-a-day,” he said.

Harrington said the colder-than normal winter, and increased exports led to the shortage.

“A year ago, we had so much we didn’t know what to do with it,” he said. “Then they began exporting it.”

“That’s what you get when you elect incompetent politicians,” he said. “The Department of Energy should know how much we have and where it’s going. That’s why they’re making the big bucks. They’re not doing their job.”

Benishek’s letter sent to President Obama reads in part: “Like you, I feel that working families and seniors should not have to choose between heat and food in cold winter months. It is my hope that you will work to ensure adequate Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) emergency contingency funds are available to all areas in need during this time.”

The LIHEAP program was established in 1981 through which the federal government makes annual grants to states, tribes, and territories to operate home energy assistance programs for low-income households.

More than 600,000 households are served in Michigan by this program.