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Carlton County, state continue to monitor propane situation

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Millions of Midwesterners face the threat of not being able to buy enough propane to heat their homes and businesses at a time when the country has more of the fuel than ever.

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The propane just is not where it needs to be, the Propane Education and Research Council reported last Thursday.

Also Thursday, Upper Midwest propane users got a couple sparks of good news.

First, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told Midwest governors in a conference call that he would suspend trucking rules that restricted transportation of propane from Texas to areas of the north experiencing propane shortages and high prices.

Second, the Obama administration announced it would release more heating assistance money for people who cannot afford propane and other fuels.

The propane council announced Thursday that it will investigate specifically why the shortage occurred and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

The cold winter is a growing concern for Minnesotans who use propane to heat their homes as prices rise and long-term supplies are stretched. Governor Dayton has signed a peacetime emergency to monitor the situation surrounding the rise in propane costs. The state is currently working to free up resources to increase the transportation of propane, in hopes to avoid the threat of households running out of heating fuel.

“In the meantime, the situation does not appear to be of immediate emergency,” stated Meghann Levitt, health educator for Carlton County Public Health. “Both the state, as well as Carlton County, are monitoring and maintaining awareness of the situation as it pertains to propane customers and the safety of Carlton County residents.”

After conversations with local propane companies, Carlton County Emergency Manager Brian Belich stated, “Propane companies are working with their customers to make sure they are taken care of. If customers have questions, they are encouraged to contact their propane company.”

Minnesota residents with questions about the current propane situation or who are in danger of running out of heating fuel can call 1-800-657-3504. This is the main hotline for the state that is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., seven days a week, for inquires.

Levitt said people who use propane to heat their homes can take several steps at this time:

  •  Conserve energy as much as possible. Turn down thermostats and be aware of your propane use.
  •  Reach out to family and friends for assistance.
  •  Check on your neighbors — especially the elderly and families with small children.
  •  Check locally for updates about the situation at www.co.carlton.mn.us.
  •  Call 911 in an emergency.

Sarah Buhs, captain and public education coordinator for the Cloquet Area Fire District encourages residents to use caution when using alternative heating sources such as space heaters:

  •  Keep anything that can burn (including pets and people) at least three feet away from heaters or any type of heating equipment.
  •  Never use your oven to heat your home.
  •  Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  •  Use a heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up to date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards.
  •  Remind kids not to touch or play around heaters.

About 250,000 Minnesota homes use propane fuel for heat, with businesses and farmers also using it. Most of the homes that use propane are in rural areas.

People who cannot afford propane may seek help through the federally funded Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program.

Minnesota legislators advise their constituents to take advantage of state aid.

“In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should ever have to worry about whether or not they can afford to keep themselves and their families warm during these cold winter months," Reps. Tom Anzelc of Balsam Township, Carly Melin of Hibbing and Jason Metsa of Virginia said in a statement. "Minnesotans look out for one another, which is why we offer programs to provide financial assistance for those who have fallen on hard times."

Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations and nonprofit agencies.

Don Davis of Forum News Service contributed to this story.

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