Proposed Propane regulations ignites anger

US - In an effort to decrease the risk of a LPG-generated terrorist attack, the US Department of Homeland Security has proposed tightening the rules governing propane use. It has sparked opposition from many industries, but farmers are particularly aggrieved.
calendar icon 24 August 2007
clock icon 5 minute read
The DHS wants to establish a 7,500-pound (1,758-gallon) threshold for propane users and those who surpass this threshold must be screened to determine if they are a high-risk target of terrorism. The online survey screening process could cost farms and rural businesses between $2,300 and $3,500 each to complete the assessment, while violation of the rules could result in a $25,000 per day fine.

Once the survey is completed, the DHS says it would then make a determination on whether or not the participant is “high risk' and so subject to more stringent standards.

“We’re thinking that maybe Homeland Security doesn’t have a clue as far as the danger involved," said Bob Bowman, President, Iowa Corn Growers Association.

Although his farming operation now uses natural gas for crop drying facilities, he used to dry crops with two 1,000-gallon tanks and currently has a 1,000-gallon tank supplying his home and farm shop.

‘We really don’t think there’s much of a security risk, certainly not in the volumes that most farmers handle. It’s really common for farmers to have 1,000-gallon tanks and if they use propane for crop drying, they could have several 1,000-gallon tanks on the farm. If this legislation goes through, it will be both an economic and physical hardship for producers. Most of the time, our tanks are not close to anything that would pose a real security threat," he added.

Mark Salvador, national policy advisor with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said the group opposes the DHS’s decision for further regulation. Rural homes, farms and small businesses are low risk facilities and regulating those who store less than 18,000 gallons of propane will mean registration for tens of thousands of rural premises in Iowa, alone.

Sen. Chuck Grassley has already taken steps to oppose the new rules. He did draft an amendment to the DHS appropriations bill for an exemption for rural homesteads, agricultural producers and businesses who rely on LPG. However, due to a lack of time for debate and procedural issues, the Senate was unable to vote on it. It is now hoped that ‘stand-alone' legislation will be drafted to address this issue.

"We’re gathering up a coalition of senators to send a letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget to review the rule in the hope that it will highlight the impact this regulation will have on rural America," said Grassley.

Large tanks that hold between 1,750 gallons and less than 24,000 gallons of propane are common in rural areas and implementation of the new rule will have dire consequences for agricultural businesses.

At this amount, up to 40,000 poultry farmers who use propane to heat chicken houses would have to register.
"I could think of a lot easier, better targets" for terrorists than chicken farms, said Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council. The US Poultry & Egg Association and the National Turkey Federation have joined the protests.

"The owners of hog, turkey and chicken operations, grain drying operations, grain elevators, vaporizers, stand-by systems for small rural industrial or construction operations, back-up power systems, distributed energy tanks for mobile home parks who now face expensive regulatory burdens by storing this amount of propane,’ said Robert Baylor, director of communications at the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA). He says the DHS rule is also likely to reduce safety of propane agriculture customers. The arbitrary 1,785-gallon threshold limit will result in customer requests for more frequent deliveries of smaller amounts of propane. This means more truck travel and more fuel transfer operations — the source of most propane related incidents," he added.

The DHS has estimated that as many as 50,000 facilities would have to be screened, but NPGA disagrees.

"All 8,000 propane retail storage facilities exceed the agency’s proposed threshold. In addition, a conservative estimate of 136,000 propane customers would have to comply with the rules. These range from grain and feed elevators, individual farms, agricultural supply houses, camp sites and trailer parks, homeowners, small businesses, construction sites, large retailers, nursing homes and hospitals," Baylor said.

The DHS regulations also indicate that total storage capacity on a piece of property will trigger the threshold, so the user of three 1,000-gallon tanks in separate locations on a farm or orchard would have to comply with the rules.

The NPGA and 14 other trade associations have formed a coalition - Friends of Propane in Agriculture - to fight the new chemical security regulations.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the agency was right to compile data on dangerous chemicals, even in rural areas, and said farmers would only need to spend "a couple hours" online to comply. The US government says the registration rule is important to protect the country and cited the terrorist plot in London in July where two cars loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline failed to explode.

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