Capitol Chatter: Klobuchar report shows propane shortage really cost Minnesotans

ST. PAUL -- It was cold last winter, really cold. Propane was in short supply last winter, really short. And the fuel was expensive, really expensive. The 10 percent of Minnesotans who heat with propane -- as well as farmers, businesses and other...

ST. PAUL -- It was cold last winter, really cold.

Propane was in short supply last winter, really short. And the fuel was expensive, really expensive.

The 10 percent of Minnesotans who heat with propane -- as well as farmers, businesses and others that use it -- felt to crunch to the tune of $70 million more they had to pay than a year before.

Others in the Midwest, where propane is most used, also felt the financial pain. Michigan residents' bills went up $71 million, Iowans' $64 million, Wisconsinites' $44 million, North Dakotans' $32 million and South Dakotans' $17 million.

The figures come from a report U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., released in her capacity as vice chairwoman of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.


“My report confirms what so many Minnesota families and businesses felt firsthand last winter: The propane shortage had significant financial consequences,” Klobuchar said. “Minnesotans rely heavily on propane to keep warm during the brutally cold winter months. That’s why I worked with Sen. John Thune (of South Dakota) to pass bipartisan legislation to help address future shortages, and I will continue to work to make sure this vital energy source is readily available for consumers.”

Last winter's propane shortage was brought on by a variety of factors. Users noticed a price that in some cases quadrupled.

Minnesota officials are optimistic that such a shortage and price spike will not happen this winter, but a task force that has met several times since spring is making preparations, just in case.

On the federal level, Klobuchar and her colleagues passed legislation to give governors more authority during a propane emergency and required the Energy Information Administration to provide early warnings if it appears propane could be in short supply.

Another Klobuchar bill streamlines transportation to communities affected by a shortage.

Kline vs. Maher

Residents of the 2nd Congressional District, on the south edge of the Twin Cities and further south, may have thought Mike Obermueller was U.S. Rep. John Kline's election opponent.

Maybe not so much. His real opponent may be well-known comedian and late-night television host Bill Maher.


Kline was the "winner" of Maher's "Flip a District" contest because he blames Kline, chairman of the House education committee, for high student loan debt.

"We want to highlight student loan debt as being an incentive for students, who often do not vote in the midterms, to register and vote,” HBO “Real Time” executive producer Scott Carter told Politico.

Maher is expected to turn up in Kline's district a couple of times, but Cater said he will not campaign for Obermueller.

The Washington Post questions Maher's battle against Kline since national election handicappers give Obermueller little chance to win (although he has played up the Maher decision). National Democrats are not targeting Kline for defeat, the Post pointed out, and two years ago when he was a target he still received 54 percent of the vote.

“As promised, Maher is turning his liberal guns on our districts and using his TV megaphone and million-dollar war chest to defeat me in November,” Kline wrote in an email to supporters.

Minnesota helps tree probe

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture helped crack a case of why trees were dying.

The department first began hearing about mysterious tree deaths in 2011 and tied them to Imprelis herbicide. In the years since, Minnesota and other states worked with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which just fined herbicide maker DuPont $1.8 million because Imprelis was not properly labeled and the company did not tell federal officials about potential problems.


“The MDA laboratory played a critical national role in developing methods to test for Imprelis in samples collected from yards and landscapes," the Agriculture Department's Joe Zachmann said. "MDA investigations provided EPA with a significant amount of data showing the damage Imprelis had caused to trees throughout the Midwest."

Cases of tree damage and death from Imprelis were widespread in the Midwest, especially Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

3 debates planned

The subject line in an email from Minnesota's Republican U.S. Senate candidate read: "More false attacks -- and still no debates."

But Mike McFadden's email to supporters was sent after he and U.S. Sen. Al Franken had agreed to a trio of debates. McFadden wants at least three more debates, but as most challengers, he at least has accepted what the incumbent will give him.

The campaigns agreed to debates:

  • 8-9 a.m. Oct. 1 at a Duluth News Tribune-Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce event.
  • 10-11 a.m. Oct. 26 on WCCO-TV in Minneapolis.
  • 7-8 p.m. Nov. 2 on Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.

A McFadden spokeswoman said her candidate wants more greater Minnesota debates. A Franken spokeswoman said the three debates, plus an early-August Farmfest forum, is about the same as normal in Minnesota U.S. Senate races.
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