Group looks to spark Hill interest in propane

For most of its seven-decade existence, the National Propane Gas Association resided quietly in Chicago, unknown to anyone outside the propane business.

But, hoping to increase its profile in policy debates, the 3,500-member trade group moved to Washington three years ago.

This week, propane proponents took another step in becoming one of this city’s special interests by holding that oft-used lobbying tactic: the fly-in.

More than 250 propane workers from 36 states were expected to visit Capitol Hill yesterday and today as part of the inaugural Propane Days. The group has also run ads in political publications and hired the public-relations firm Fleishman-Hillard to help market the event.

The group was to meet with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as Reps. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Propane distributors in Iowa were scheduled to meet with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

As one of propane’s main uses is in gas grills, barbecues were scheduled to be held as well, including one tonight at the Sewall-Belmont House.

“We want to raise awareness on Capitol Hill about propane,” said Bob Baylor, spokesman for the association.

“A lot of times, staffers get us confused with natural gas,” he said.

That would be despite the best efforts of Hank Hill, the cartoon character of the TV show “King of the Hill” who routinely sings the praises of the fuel as a propane salesman.

Propane is an $11.7 billion business and employs more than 56,000 people, according to the association’s website.

In addition to its use in gas grills, propane heats homes in rural areas where cheaper natural gas hasn’t reached and powers more than 500,000 forklifts. Chemical companies use about half of the propane produced in this country as a feedstock for their products.

Baylor said the group supports passage of the comprehensive energy bill.

In particular, the association is seeking tax breaks for broadly defined alternative fuels, including propane, through legislation such as Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) Clean Efficient Automobiles Resulting from Advanced Technologies, or CLEAR, Act.

But Baylor said the group’s principal legislative priority is getting Congress to loosen the hours-of-service rule — which limits how many consecutive hours truckers can be on the road — in the highway bill on the Senate floor this week.

The association, which Baylor said has an operating budget of $5 million, spent $320,000 on lobbying activities during the first six months of 2004, the latest time period for which data is available.

That was an increase from the year before; the association spent $240,000 on lobbying during the first half of 2003.

NPGA’s political action committee, PropanePAC, gave $133,500 in campaign contributions during the last election cycle.