Escalating propane costs, lesser prairie-chicken on minds of lawmakers, constituents
By Dave Bergmeier
The cost of propane and the listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species were on the minds of those who attended a recent Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Forum.
In some cases there has been tripling in propane prices. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has joined AGs from other states to investigate if any price gouging has occurred, according to state Sen. Garrett Love, a Montezuma, Kan., Republican.
Love said propane is an important primary heating and energy source in rural Kansas and there have been reports in some areas where it has increased from $1.50 a gallon to $6 a gallon. Usage was high in the fall as farmers used it as a heat source to dry corn, and a cold winter has increased usage as supplies have dwindled.
“Ten percent of Kansans use propane,” he said, and at the midpoint of winter there are likely cold days still ahead this season.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has taken action to help low-income families deal with escalating propane costs, Love said.
The governor has directed the Department of Children and Families, Topeka, Kan., to provide priority status to applications for Low Income Energy Assistance Program and reach out to low-income families that use propane as a primary heating source.
Love said to contact his office for more details if people have any questions or know of someone who could use the program.
Since the Feb. 1 forum, Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gillmore has announced an Emergency Propane Relief Program. The program is designed to help individuals who rely on propane as their primary heating source and whose income falls between 130 percent to 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
The program provides a one-time $511 benefit to eligible households. The payment will be issued as a two-party check so that only the propane vendor can deposit it. The application period is Feb. 4 to March 4. Applications are available at all DCF service centers or www.dcf.ks.gov, and they can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Supporting documents must be provided before the application can be processed.
Households that qualify for the Emergency Propane Relief Program must meet the following criteria:
Households must use propane as their primary heating source and provide verification of their current propane vendor and bill.
Applicants must provide verification of their household’s income for the past 30 days.
The combined monthly gross income of household members must be between 130 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty level based on these standards: Household of 1, the monthly income must be above $1,211 or below $1,771; Household of 2, the monthly income must be above $1,640 or below $2,391; Household of 3, the monthly income must be above $2,069 or below $3,011; or Household of 4, the monthly income must be above $2,498 or below $3,631.
Households below 130 percent of the federal poverty level may apply for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, Gilmore said.
A Ford, Kan., county commissioner raised his concerns about the potential long-term impact of listing the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is under the U.S. Department of the Interior, has supported the listing. Shawn Tasset, a county commissioner and a farmer and rancher from Spearville, Kan., said his concern was that listing could have a long-term detriment to agricultural producers because of its vagueness. Property would likely carry documentation on mortgages and deeds to reflect it was in the habitat development area and that could restrict sales transaction and land values.
Rep. John Ewy, a Jetmore Republican, said he and other state legislators are concerned about the process and he agreed that more information earlier would have helped him, too. Ewy is a member of the House ag and natural resources committee.
“I wished we had heard about it at the beginning of the last session (January 2013),” Ewy said.
Love and Reps. Bud Estes, R-Bucklin, and Ron Ryckman, R-Meade, agreed with Ewy that it was important to stay in contact with state officials as well as county commissioners.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has been working to find a compromise but Ewy said more information has to be in the hands of landowners and not simply posting information on websites and expecting those most impacted to have their questions or concerns answered.
According to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the oil and gas companies are voluntarily enrolling about 1.5 million acres as part of a plan developed by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and state wildlife agencies in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The state wildlife agencies have formed the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Interstate Working Group.
While the oil and gas companies may have good intentions the vast majority of owners are farmers and ranchers, Tasset said. The proposal’s excerpts indicate possible funding sources for management units with funding fees and conservation fund accounts associated with the oil and gas industry. The proposal lists enrollment fees for transmission lines, cell radio towers, primary roads, pipelines and compressors, distribution lines and secondary roads.
The Kansas Natural Resource Coalition, Garden City, has not endorsed the multi-state plan saying it was premature. The coalition was concerned the agreement circumvents local government, proposes costs that pose economic hardship and bypasses studies that safeguard human systems. The coalition includes 32 western Kansas counties and covers about 27,500 square miles and 17.6 million acres.
The coalition had a public hearing in November and has gone through significant research and developed a finding of facts pertinent to the issues, said Jim Carlson, executive director of the coalition. It notes the impact federal government actions can have on natural and human environment. This includes effects on communities, cultural resources, industry, ranching and agriculture that must be taken into account by the federal government before taking final action. Changes in agricultural production, such as how alfalfa is cut or restrictions on times it can be cut to accommodate the habitat, is a tangible example of what an implementation might look like.
The threatened list is different from the endangered species list and Tasset said that causes him angst because of the unknown “flexibility.”
Brownback has opposed the threatened species listing as proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A final decision is expected in March.
“It is very concerning,” said Love, a member of the Senate ag committee, about the designation.
The western Kansas region is considered a prime habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, as are regions in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
“It’s not about the lesser prairie-chicken or the prairie dog or the black-footed ferret,” Tasset said afterward. “It’s about (preserving) private property rights.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the lesser prairie-chicken requires large areas of intact native grassland shrubland and the agency has determined it is likely to become a danger of extinction in the foreseeable future. The agency said the primary threats are habitat loss, fragmentation, modification and degradation with the species’ range. In addition and more recently, “land uses related to wind energy and transmission development, in combination with the potential loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres, present conservation challenges for the lesser prairie-chicken,” the agency stated.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended its public comment period so that
comments on the issue will be taken until 10:59 p.m. Central time on Feb. 12. Tasset and the state lawmakers encouraged those concerned about the listing and related issues to provide comments. They may be made electronically at www.regulations.gov (in the search box type FWS—R2—ES—2012—0071 and click “Comment Now”) or postmarked by 10:59 p.m. Feb. 12 and sent to Public Comments Processing, Attention FWS—R2—ES—2012—0071, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042—PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.
The Legislative Forum was at the High Plains Journal Communications Center in Dodge City. The next forum is scheduled for March 1.
Dave Bergmeier can be reached by phone at 620-227-1822 or by email at email@example.com.