SPRINGFIELD — A package of spending and regulatory measures was proposed Tuesday to address the state's propane supply emergency.
Legislation introduced in the Illinois Senate would boost state aid to low-income families for propane purchases, create a short-term loan program and ease weight restrictions on Illinois interstates to allow a faster propane resupply effort.
Under the temporary measure, the state would provide an additional $10 million to the state's energy assistance program until the end of March. The program assists families in paying their energy bills, but these additional funds could go only toward propane purchases.
The proposal also would make it easier to qualify for energy assistance, requiring that families make no more than $44,000, up from the currently required $34,000.
Additionally, the plan would create a $20 million short-term loan program for farmers, propane distributors and small businesses.
It also would increase the weight restriction on the Illinois interstate system to 100,000 pounds, up from 80,000 pounds.
Republican state Sens. Sam McCann of Carlinville and Dale Righter of Mattoon introduced the legislation to curb rapidly increasing prices on propane in the state.
"Due to a combination of record cold temperatures and a wet harvest last fall, prices of gas have spiked, and in some locations, supply is short," McCann said. "This summer, most of the residents who were paying $1.50 a gallon for propane are now paying well over $5 a gallon."
"The result is individuals and families who are having to make very real decisions about whether they can heat their homes in the coming weeks and months ahead," Righter said.
The proposal would have to be enacted quickly to beat what's left of the cold weather, but McCann said that's up to the rest of the Legislature.
"You'll have to talk to my colleagues about that," McCann said. "Hopefully, as soon as possible."
Gov. Pat Quinn enacted emergency reforms Monday when he declared a propane shortage emergency.
The emergency declaration loosens the rules that stop propane truck drivers from crossing state lines to fill their tanks and determine how long they can stay on the road.
The Illinois Department of Revenue also has temporarily suspended the tax on out-of-state trucks using Illinois' roads.
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"When cold temperatures force energy supplies to go down and prices to go up, it leaves consumers in a bind," Quinn said.
John Tibbs, director of education and safety for the Illinois Propane Gas Association, said the state is taking steps in the right direction.
"They've helped us out tremendously by declaring an emergency," Tibbs said. "That's let us go to other places in order to get supply up."
Reducing the interstate weight limits will speed the resupply efforts up even further, he said.
"Right now, that's going to help because other states have larger tankers," Tibbs said. "That's going to help them come through our state as well as let us bring more."
The legislation is Senate Bill 2757.