Fact-finding officials warn propane companies against price gouging

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The propane shortage is still regarded as a crisis in rural Minnesota, and on Saturday night it got the attention of U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

The Northfield News reports that Franken visited a farm in Nerstrand in Rice County to talk to local farmers about their problems in getting adequate supplies of the fuel. It's estimated that 250,000 Minnesota homes, farms and businesses rely on propane for heat.

"Are producers taking advantage of people's anxieties and trying to profit from this terrible situation?" Franken asked, who said he was on a fact-finding mission. "That's what I'm trying to find out."

Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman accompanied Franken, and said his department is watching the propane distribution chain to for any evidence of price gouging. "I sent a letter to the propane industry saying we are going to keep an eye on you," Rothman said. "We are going to enforce the law. We want to send a message that you can't price gouge."

The Duluth News Tribune reports that the cost of propane continues to push up the price in northern Minnesota. “Wholesale prices are up over 125 percent in the past two weeks,” said Joe Stariha, co-president of Como Oil, which serves the North Shore, the Iron Range, Duluth and Northwestern Wisconsin.

The newspaper also reported that the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency Energy Assistance program serving Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties received notification from the state that crisis grants for qualifying households have been increased from $500 to $1,000 to help cover the higher costs.

The head of the Minnesota Farmers Union has demanded answers about the shortage. “Why did it become so expensive, and who is charging it, and why are they charging it because they can?" Doug Peterson asked while speaking to reporters at KSTP.

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