Pence asks Hoosiers to check for extra propane

Published: .
Updated: .

Governor Mike Pence is asking farmers and others to return any unused propane to their suppliers as the state struggles through an ongoing shortage.

Pence also announced Wednesday he would extend travel waivers to maintain the flow of propane to homeowners and farmers and was adding $5 million in heating assistance for low-income residents.

The governor estimated that roughly 500,000 Indiana residents rely on propane to heat their homes. He declared an energy emergency in response to the propane shortage.

Pence's actions come on the heels of legislative efforts to alleviate widespread problems. The Indiana Senate gave initial approval to lifting the sales tax on propane sales Tuesday.

Prices on propane have skyrocketed amid the shortage. Some customers have reported seeing prices double from $2.50 a gallon to $5 a gallon.

The governor's decision authorizes the Indiana Attorney general's office to use certain investigative and enforcement powers.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said an energy emergency allows his office to investigate consumer claims of price gouging and if violations are found, seek injunctive relief, consumer restitution and civil penalties.

Under Indiana law (IC 4-6-9.1), price gouging occurs when a consumer is charged an "unconscionable amount" for the sale of fuel. For example, if the amount charged grossly exceeds the average price of fuel during the seven days before the emergency was declared or if the amount is not attributable to cost factors to the retailer.

Since Dec. 16, the Attorney General's office has received 23 consumer complaints related to the propane shortage and 21 of those are concerning the high prices.

Hoosiers who want to report suspected price gouging can do so by calling the Attorney General's Office hotline toll-free at 1-866-241-9753 or visiting Indiana

Lawmakers propose bill

Indiana consumers no longer would pay sales tax on bulk propane sold for more than $2.50 a gallon if an amended bill becomes law.

The amendment to a business property tax bill approved by the Indiana Senate on Tuesday also would give consumers credits for past purchases of costly propane.

Unusually cold temperatures have made propane supplies scarce in Indiana and other states. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported propane sold at a historic high of $2.98 per gallon earlier this month, but local reports say it's now being sold for more than $5 a gallon.

The credits would be retroactive to Jan. 1 and extend through March.

State Sens. John Waterman of Shelburn, Doug Eckerty of Yorktown and Jim Smith of Charlestown drafted the amendment.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)