Every winter seems cold and brutal, but this one has been really tough. Throughout this winter, much of our state has been covered in ice and snow and the air has been bitterly cold. Recently, all but two states had snow on the ground.
When the temperature drops, our energy use spikes. When the temperature stays low, it creates a big problem as propane supplies fall. The results can be nothing short of an energy emergency.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. propane stocks are far below normal for this time of year. A recent EIA report shows that propane stocks are 43% lower than a year ago, causing propane prices to double, or even triple, since October.
The propane supply was already low after the high demand this fall from farmers who use propane for crop-drying. One week in November, we saw the biggest single-week draw-down since 1993. More than twenty states, including Arkansas, have issued disaster declarations related to the propane shortage.
The propane shortage makes it very expensive to heat homes and hard for farmers who use a lot of propane to stay afloat. Recently, I saw firsthand how energy prices are hurting Arkansans during a visit to Pharr Chicken Farm in Lincoln, Arkansas. Owner Gene Pharr said he noticed the price increase in January when he paid twice as much as he expected for propane to heat his chicken houses. He anticipates the hike will force him to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for his latest flock.
In the short term, I support emergency efforts to provide relief. Earlier this month, I led a bipartisan coalition of senators urging the Obama administration to provide relief to those suffering from the propane shortage.
The White House has ability to provide short-term regulatory relief. For example, the Transportation Department can temporarily suspend regulations that drive up the cost of shipping propane. The Administration needs to continue and expand such efforts.
In the long run, this situation reminds us that our country lacks a smart energy policy. A smart policy would encourage all forms of American energy. We need sources like nuclear, wind, renewable biomass, hydropower, and solar. We have also been blessed with vast quantities of oil, gas, and coal, and we should use them. Production must be safely increased, including on federal lands and offshore. Research, development, efficiency, and conservation must continue.
Also, a smart energy policy would make it easier to move energy from where it’s produced to the people who need it. That’s why it’s so difficult to justify the Administration’s continued delay of important projects like the Keystone pipeline.
Finally, a smart energy policy will not impose heavy-handed rules that reduce energy supplies. The President’s climate regulation plan would not have a major impact on the global climate, but it will reduce our access to energy. He once said that his climate policies would make the cost of electricity “sky-rocket.” Now he says his plans won’t cost much. The President may promise that “if you like affordable energy, you can keep affordable energy.” But like his other promises, we know that it’s sadly not true.
It’s time to recognize that shortages and high energy prices hurt families, farmers, and businesses. And it’s time to do something about it, in the short-term and as we plan for the future.