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Dayton meets with Minnesota propane suppliers to address crisis

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Gov. Mark Dayton says he's working to find a solution to the state's shortage of propane, a resource many Minnesota homeowners rely on to stay warm in frigid temperatures.

Dayton told reporters that was meeting with Minnesota propane suppliers and distributors later Monday for further advice on how to solve the problem, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

Dayton and DFL members of Minnesota's congressional delegation sent a letter to Pres. Barack Obama, urging him to lift regulatory barriers which would allow for quicker transportation of propane from Texas and other states with greater supplies.

The wholesale price of propane in the state soared from $1.55 per gallon last fall to just under $5 last week.

The Star Tribune reports agencies that help people on fixed incomes with heating assistance are seeing a spike in requests for help with soaring bills. Rural residents were feeling the squeeze two weeks ago, KARE reported.

The newspaper had the story of Ron Selleck, 78, who lives in North Branch, Minnesota. The retiree has closed off bedrooms, set the thermostat at 58, built fires in a wood stove and sleeps with an electric blanket to try to stay warm and extend the propane in his tank. He got help from the Salvation Army after he used up his allotment of government heating assistance administered through the Lakes and Pines Community Action Council in Mora, Minnesota. The story said that agency's crisis department is "overwhelmed this season with heartbreaking stories."

“Clients are calling in and saying ‘We’re keeping it at 50 degrees to make it last longer,’ ” staff member Vickie Palmquist said. “When you hear of these little old ladies and little old men that are keeping their house at 50 degrees … I want to take them home."

The Minnesota Propane Association estimates that more than 250,000 homes, farms and businesses use propane as their main source of heat. Propane suppliers already are rationing supplies.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota's congressional delegation are seeking immediate relief from federal officials to remove regulatory barriers that could help in easing the critical shortage.

The Mankato Free Press reported that the propane problems are likely to worsen. Minnesota will lose a pipeline that carries 40 percent of the state's propane. The 1,900-mile Cochin pipeline — which runs through the Mankato area — carries propane from western Canada to the eastern U.S. The company that owns the pipeline, Kinder Morgan, will stop propane shipments, reverse the pipeline's flow, and send light petroleum condensate from the U.S. for use by the Canadian oil industry. It's expected to be a more profitable venture for the company than propane. Wholesalers said they are expanding propane storage and building and converting terminals to take propane deliveries by train.

Over the weekend, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared a State of Emergency in response to the propane shortage. The Daily Union reports the action directs all state agencies to be on alert and to assist as needed. An estimated 250,000 homes and businesses in Wisconsin rely on propane for heat.

“The health and safety of our citizens is our number one priority, and this declaration gives us the necessary resources to protect the residents of Wisconsin,” Walker said. “Since last fall, we have taken action to help alleviate the impact the propane shortage is having on our state."

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