Bill targets propane delivery problems

Several Lakes Region legislators are working on a propane delivery bill after some constituents had trouble getting fuel during a recent streak of cold weather. 

AUGUSTA — Several Lakes Region lawmakers are attempting to address the situation that left some area residents scrambling to get propane delivered during a recent stretch of sub-zero temperatures.

A bill introduced by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, aims to facilitate propane deliveries by another company when a customer’s regular propane supplier is unable to make a delivery.

Current state law stipulates that only the owner of a propane tank – typically the heating company rather than the homeowner – can refill it or authorize someone else to fill it. While companies can enter into agreements to fill each others’ tanks, uncertainty about who would be held liable in the case of an accident is an impediment to those agreements.

Diamond says the bill, LD 1793, seeks to clarify that liability piece in order to encourage companies to enter into filling agreements and “help each other out” in emergency situations.

He said the effort behind the bill is a bipartisan one from several legislators in the region and has included conversations with the heating industry and Governor LePage’s energy office.

Rep. Jess Fay, D-Raymond is the bill’s lead co-sponsor in the House of Representatives and the proposal has bipartisan support from cosponsors Patrick Corey, R-Windham, Mark Bryant, D-Windham, Don Marean, R-Hollis, Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport.

Fay said in her written testimony to the Judiciary Committee last week that she had heard of several constituents who had issues getting heating fuel over the past several weeks, including elderly and ill individuals.

She said in an interview this week that she isn’t aware of any constituents that are still unable to get propane delivered, but hopes to avoid the situation in the future.

“I am very concerned that if we have another arctic blast some of them could be placed in harm’s way,” said Fay in her testimony. “I hope we can pass this bill to help keep seniors and families in the Lakes Region and the rest of Maine a little bit warmer this winter.”

Corey reported hearing similar concerns in his written testimony.

“During Maine’s recent cold snap, I received panicked calls from constituents, some worried about their pipes freezing or because they had someone sick or elderly they were taking care of at home,” said Corey. “There was a great deal of discussion about putting five gallons of diesel in their oil tanks. Others were busily calling around to different oil companies that they weren’t regular customers of to see if they could get fuel brought to them. Of course, none of these solutions exist for those who use propane.”

The judiciary committee ultimately pressed pause on LD 1793 this week, voting to table the bill during a work session Tuesday. Some members of the committee expressed concerns about the proposal, including that it might shift liability to homeowners in the case of a propane delivery accident or issue.

Jamie Py, president of the Maine Energy Marketers Associations that represents many heating oil and propane companies, told the committee Tuesday that his group generally supports the concept behind LD 1793 but has concerns about liability limitations for the company filling the tanks.

He called the recent struggle to meet some propane delivery demand an “unprecedented situation” and made reference to challenges in the Lakes region.

He said the industry is working to create an agreement that could potentially serve as a model – while hopefully addressing liability concerns and satisfying insurers – for fuel companies looking to cooperate with each other on deliveries.

Py also said his group supports the existing container law that ties the tank to the delivery company, saying that it is “all about safety.”

Diamond said Wednesday that he asked the judiciary committee to table the bill in order to give the industry a few weeks to work on the model agreement.

He was “really encouraged” and said that the industry is “really starting to work with us” on the issue.

Despite seeing the bill tabled, Fay was optimistic that lawmakers and the industry are looking to address the issue. She said having the bill tabled rather than voted “ought not to pass” signaled that “people are still willing to work on this problem.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Several Lakes Region legislators are working on a propane delivery bill after some constituents had trouble getting fuel during a recent streak of cold weather.