Legislature slaps down rules on propane piracy
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 22, 2013
Wyoming House members last week soundly rejected Etna Republican Rep. Marti Halverson’s first bill.
House Bill 107 would have made it a crime for someone to fill up the propane tank of another company. Halverson’s proposal sailed through a committee hearing but fell hard when it got to the House floor.
Legislators voted down the bill 40-12. While Jackson Republican lawmakers Keith Gingery and Ruth Ann Petroff backed the measure, Halverson couldn’t rally enough support for her legislation.
“It’s government intrusion on commerce,” Rep. Patrick Goggles, R-Ethete, said. “And I believe this body has ex-pressed itself in those terms.”
Others raised technical questions about the bill, some relating to the size of tanks to which it might be applied. Lawmakers were worried that the legislation might inadvertently affect tanks used for grilling or ones that are hooked up to recreational vehicles.
Halverson said the bill was prompted by the owner of a propane company in House District 22, which covers Lincoln County and parts of Teton and Sublette counties.
“He alerted me that there was another nameless company going around filling tanks from other propane companies,” she said.
It’s a private property and safety issue, Halverson said.
“When a company goes to fill a tank owned by them, they check the valves and look for leaks,” she said. “They’re delivering an approved product. When a nonauthorized propane distributor does it, they don’t always perform the safety checks.”
Halverson declined to provide the name of the resident who raised the issue with her. The most recent case of someone swooping in to fill another company’s tank happened several weeks ago near Teton Village, she said.
Many homeowners don’t realize they’re potentially violating lease agreements with the propane company when they hire another business to fill up their tanks, Halverson said.
“They’re mostly alarmed when they find out,” she said.
The bill would have made it a misdemeanor — punishable with a maximum fine of $750 and six months in jail — to fill up any gas container without the owner’s permission. The legislation also prohibited removing the name of a company from a tank or replacing it with another business name.
Baron Glasgow, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Propane Asso-ciation, said a law such as Halverson’s could help tighten up state regulations for gas companies.
“It does leave the door open to untrained individuals filling propane tanks,” he said of Wyoming’s existing regulations. “A consumer doesn’t know if someone going door-to-door to sell them a delivery of propane is adequately trained or if they have insurance in case something goes wrong.”
Glasgow said many states already have regulations that address the issue, which can pose safety risks in certain cases.
“If it is filled improperly, becomes damaged because of the filler’s negligence or is filled with contaminated gas, an accident could occur, resulting in property damage and personal injury,” he said, referring to propane tanks.