Tag Archives: gas

State gets flood of gasoline price-gouging complaints

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Consumer Affairs division is investigating about 600 complaints of gasoline price gouging received from consumers, reports WTVF-TV.

Typically, the state would get 5,000 total complaints every year.

“That’s off the charts for us, we are in the midst of of sorting through the overflow of complaints,” TDCI Communications Director Kevin Walters said. 

Prices increased as a result of a pipeline leak in Alabama nearly two weeks ago. Governor Haslam issued an executive order to increase the hours of truckers shipping fuel. Panic over a possible gas shortage prompted drivers to pack gas stations and tap them out throughout the mid-state.

“It was frustrating this weekend,” Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association President Rob Ikard told NewsChannel 5. “There was a sudden and unnatural demand of gas over the weekend.”

Majority of the complaints were from the Nashville metro area with reports of gas prices ranging from $3 per gallon to as high as $9.99 per gallon. 

Under Tennessee law, it is unlawful to grossly charge essential goods or services in a time of emergency. 

There are so many complaints the Consumer Affairs staff is still logging the complaints. State officials say they will go through each complaint with a legal team to determine the validity.

More talk on raising Tennessee’s gas tax

Gov. Bill Haslam has communicated to state legislators to prepare for a proposal raising the state’s gas tax during the new legislative session beginning next month, reports the Cleveland Daily Banner.

The item was revealed by state Rep. Dan Howell who, along with state Rep. Kevin Brooks and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, attended a meeting of the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs committee.

“What that will look like we don’t know yet,” Howell said.

He noted any proposal would have to go through the legislature’s committee process before going to a formal vote.

“It will probably get to the floor,” he added. “I don’t know if it will be some kind of indexing tax or a flat rate per gallon. [The governor] has already signaled this is something he is going to do.”

…Howell said the last change to the rate was over two decades ago.

“We all know what inflation has done since that time. ] I think we could make the case that TDOT does an extremely good job with the money they have when they are faced with inflation and no new revenue since 1989,” he said. He added he was not suggesting his support of the proposed increase.

“I’m just telling you this is what’s coming down the pike,” Howell said.

…The representatives all implied it was the good news — lower gas prices, population growth, increased economic activity — which might serve to make the increase necessary.

Gardenhire said 30 percent of the gas tax revenue comes from people from out of state.

“With gas prices down, people drive more and pay more taxes. The danger is we could fall asleep and have a report come out saying gas taxes are up. Well, they’re up because overall gas prices have been cut in half and people are going to drive more. But, those prices may not stay that low and if they don’t, then we’ve kicked the can down the road,” he said.

….Brooks said he and Gardenhire had recently attended a conference with legislators from across the country.

“One of the great things about Tennessee is that from the beginning we pay cash for our roads. We pay as we go,” Brooks said.
…“I think the federal government holds it against us that we have paid cash all these years,” he said.

He said the state needs to explore ways to maintain that debt-free transportation system.

Neither of the three committed either way to the proposed gas tax increase noting there are no specifics available.

Farm Bureau no longer opposing gas tax increase

In a change from recent years, the politically powerful Tennessee Farm Bureau no longer includes opposition to an increase in Tennessee’s gas tax among its legislative priorities, according to the Tennessean in a story rounding up indications that a push for more fuel tax revenue is near.

An updated policy statement approved at (the Farm Bureau’s) annual meeting in Franklin this month now says that “good highways, roads, and bridges are of vital interest to agriculture and to rural people.”

Combined with some of the lowest gas prices in years, it all adds up to perhaps the broadest support for raising the tax in Tennessee — or perhaps any tax in this state — since the levy was last increased in 1989. And yet any proposal would face a big hurdle in the Tennessee General Assembly — one made even higher because it lacks the support of some state Democrats who might have been considered possible backers.

Haslam, who did not raise a single tax in Tennessee during his first term, is confident a legislative proposal to up the tax is imminent. The bill could come as early as the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.

“At some point and time soon, either this year or next year, I think there will be a bill about gas tax,” he told The Tennessean editorial board last week.

“It’s incumbent upon us as the administration to show here’s what we would do with that money if you increased the fuel tax, and then it’s also I think important for all of us not to just increase it so that … three years from now we’re back in the same position.”

Sunday column: Falling gas prices creating a taxing opportunity window?

Falling gas prices have may have added another option to Gov. Bill Haslam’s possibilities for short-term expenditure of the political capital he has presumably banked with a 70 percent approval rating, according to both a Vanderbilt poll released last week and last month’s election results.

Haslam has been talking about the need to restructure the state’s fuel tax system since he launched his campaign for governor in 2010, but did nothing in his first term. The state gas tax is now 21.4 cents per gallon, unchanged since 1989.

In budget hearings last week, Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, who has previously deemed the present taxing system “archaic,” said things are reaching the point where Tennessee no longer has the money to build new roads and instead can only maintain the roads it has. Haslam pretty much agreed.

“There’s no way the state can proceed on the path we’re on,” he told reporters, advising that his administration is currently evaluating whether the upcoming 2015 legislative session is the “right time” to go for a fuel tax overhaul.

Previously, it had been somewhat understood that gas tax war would be put on the shelf for another year, given the probability of plenty of controversy already in store for the legislative session — a fight over Common Core standards for sure and maybe a battle over Medicaid expansion and other stuff. And maybe a year’s delay would clarify the muddled situation on Congress doing something about the shrinking supply of federal funding to states for highway construction and maintenance.

But then gas prices started tumbling toward $2 a gallon, prompting speculation that the timing for an overhaul could be ideal.
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Bredesen to UT Students: 50-cent Gas Tax Increase Not a Great Idea

University of Tennessee graduate students got some practical advice for their national energy policy ideas that might be politically unpopular from two former public figures who have governed in the real world, reports Georgiana Vines.
The occasion was Thursday when presentations by a policy studies class in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education were made to the center’s namesake, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, acting the role of “president.”
Then walked in his friend and “vice president,” former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who’s also been a U.S. secretary of energy and a diplomat. Richardson was in Knoxville as a guest of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.
…On increasing the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, the students recommended a 50-cent increase as a “shock” price that would see consumption go down initially; then, as consumers got used to it and started purchasing gas again, another increase would be imposed.
Bredesen said the amount might not seem like much, but when people have limited income and also need transportation, it’s not an easy idea to sell.
“This is a very privileged group of people,” Bredesen said, speaking of the students. “When you present your ideas in the public sector, you’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of those who are not.”
Think of a single mom with a kid at home, he told them.
“She’s spending a dime and then some to stay afloat,” Bredesen said.

State Agencies Eye Natural Gas Fracking on Public Land

A review of UT records leading up to the state’s fracking decision last month shows the question of fracking public land in Tennessee is not new, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
As far as back as 2002, when UT first shopped the idea of seeking oil and gas drilling bids on its property to the executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission, there was interest among other state agencies with custody of big bodies of land in East Tennessee where the underground Chattanooga shale deposits may hide today’s new gold — natural gas.
One day after the university’s first pitch before the subcommittee on Oct. 22, 2002, UT’s Alvin Payne, assistant vice president of UT office of capital projects, wrote a memo to report the results of the meeting to Jack Britt, vice president of UT Institute of Agriculture:
“There was extensive interest in this area by multiple state agencies such as the Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Department of Correction, etc. All of the agencies were supportive of our initiative and would like to potentially do something similar to that which we propose.”
The memos and dozens of other documents and emails were obtained by the Southern Environmental Law Center using Freedom of Information Act requests. SCLC shared them with the newspaper.
….Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said neither she nor Jonathon Burr in TDEC’s mining section have heard of anyone suggesting the state drill on its own property for state gain.
But TDEC has worked with UT and drillers on UT’s draft “research plan” and took it to the governor’s office.
In a March 18, 2012, email exchange between Bryan Kaegi, who represents Consol Energy, and Larry Arrington, chancellor of UT’s Institute of Agriculture, Arrington states: “Our strategy (and they agreed) was to have TDEC help push for approvals. …”
In another email exchange between the two on Aug. 20, 2012, Kaegi tells Arrington: “I have spoken with Administration and TDEC and both have said ball is in UT hands.”
Less that two months later, UT officials met with Jonathan Burr and Paul Schmierbach of TDEC. In UT debriefing notes, Schmierbach offered the following comments:
“Be prepared for the worst from the environmental community — but their actions will not sway the Governor’s office resolve/support.”

News Notes on TN Legislative Ideas as the 2013 Session Gets Underway

Local Option Gas Tax?
Tri-Cities officials are asking area state legislators to authorize a local option gas tax of up to five cents per gallon as a means to improve roads, reports the Bristol Herald Courier.
Friday’s annual wish list presentation from Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City leaders to representatives and senators headed to Nashville… includes a variety of policy objectives, but the gas tax was an eye-opener to one Bristol lawmaker.
“I just can’t see that working in today’s current economic environment,” said State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, one of the lawmakers at the meeting at the Millennium Centre.
“We are a pay as you go state when it comes to roads and bridges and so far, that has worked, so I can’t see a tax increase going anywhere fast.”
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips handled the transportation segment of the presentations given to legislators and said the consensus of the three-city committee was to have a gas tax option ready to use for an ever-growing list of road construction needs.
“If we are not going to raise taxes or sell bonds somewhere down the road (to improve roads), we are going to have a big problem,” Phillips said. “I think this is really the year to look seriously at that local option so that we can get some help. I personally feel that if there was (no press coverage) and you raised taxes five cents on gasoline no one would know it. Three weeks ago, gas went up 13 cents in one day. The way prices are fluctuating, I think we are missing a prime opportunity not to address that option.”

Insurance Coverage for Oral Chemotherapy?
Tennessee’s cancer-fighting advocates want to hang onto funding for screening and smoking cessation, do a better job educating residents and – after a crushing defeat on this last year – force insurers to cover oral chemotherapy at the same rate as intravenous treatments, reports The Tennessean.
What’s not on their list is raising the cigarette tax, the nation’s sixth-lowest, an effort shown to discourage smoking, raise revenue and, ultimately, save on healthcare costs. That effort failed last year too, said Nancy Hauskins DuBois, an advocacy specialist for the American Cancer Society, so her group is putting it on snooze and waiting for a better time.
…Tennessee is making slight gains against the nation in its cancer fight, moving from fifth in the nation for deaths three years ago to sixth today, U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention statistics show.
At the same time, it moved from 22nd to 16th for diagnosed incidents of cancer, but that’s not a bad thing, said Dr. Ingrid M. Meszoely, a Vanderbilt University surgeon and co-chair of the Tennessee Cancer Coalition.

Elect Utility District Boards?
Most utility district boards in Tennessee are appointed by county mayors or other local officials, but a dispute over the DeKalb Utility District’s expansion plans has triggered a call for having the boards elected by ratepayers, reports The Tennessean.
But efforts allowing ratepayers to elect utility board members elsewhere in Tennessee have failed in the General Assembly, in part because of opposition from a powerful association representing rural utilities, the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD).
Some lawmakers hope to try again this year.
“The customers of the utility districts have no say in who is on their board,” said state Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald. “The board controls the rates, controls a lot of issues.”
As a House member for the past decade, Hensley has sponsored legislation allowing direct elections of utility commissioners in Lawrence County. Those efforts have failed. But Hensley, elected to the Senate in November, said he’ll try again this year.
The issue of direct elections for Tennessee’s 180 utility districts, many in rural areas, would add accountability to the boards and better protect ratepayers, say advocates for the change.

Bill Limits Spur Knox Discussion
The Knox County legislative delegation is weighing the impact of state Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to impose limits on bill introductions, with one new House member reporting he’s already being contacted by lobbyists on the matter, reports Georgiana Vines.
Roger Kane, the Republican elected in November to the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, said four lobbyists have contacted him about sponsoring legislation and one wants him to sponsor two bills.
If Harwell’s 10-bill limit proposal were to be adopted, “that would be half my slots,” he said. “In principle, it sounds good,” he said. “It has caused some things to change. Typically, freshmen were given some ramp-up time. (Now) the freshmen have become of a little more value.”
However, he said he doesn’t want constituencies to be without an opportunity to have bills introduced late in the session, so he hasn’t yet “developed an opinion” on Harwell’s proposal.
Rep. Bill Dunn, a Republican who represents the 16th District, said he has favored limiting bills for several years. He said he has discussed with Harwell having a limit of seven “active” bills at any one time, and if one passes or fails, then another could be introduced.
“What the speaker is doing is a step in the right direction,” he said.
State Rep. Harry Brooks, a Republican representing the 19th District, and Rep. Joe Armstrong, a Democrat representing the 15th District, said some legislators may already have commitments that end up surpassing 10 bills.
“Put the rule in, but make it effective for a second session and here on out,” Armstrong said.

Rally Backs Penny-per-Gallon Memphis Gas Tax

Chanting “One cent makes sense,” about 20 backers of a proposed gasoline tax to support Memphis Area Transit Authority rallied at the public transportation agency’s facility Friday to urge voters to approve the duty, according to The Commercial Appeal.
“Of course nobody wants more taxes, but one cent per gallon means you’d have to drive 100 miles before it would cost you a nickel,” said Scott Banburry, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club’s local Chickasaw Group. “If you drive 10,000 miles in a year, it’s only $5 for the entire year.”
City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. proposed the referendum, which asks voters to approve a one-cent tax on every gallon of gasoline purchased in Memphis. If it’s approved, the tax could provide as much as $3 million to MATA.
“We have an opportunity before us where we can show our citizens we care about public transportation,” said Ford.
For years the city has subsidized MATA with funds from its operating and capital improvement program budgets, and MATA officials have repeatedly pleaded with city officials for a dedicated funding source.
MATA has a budget of more than $50 million; last year $22 million of that was contributed by the city. For the current fiscal year, the city cut its contribution to MATA by $250,000.

Consultant David Jones Named TRA Director

News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointment of David Jones as a director on the newly reconfigured Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA).
Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) jointly appointed Jones, and he joins fellow TRA directors James Allison, Kenneth Hill, Herbert Hilliard and Sara Kyle.
“It is our job to make state government as accountable and responsive to Tennesseans as possible,” Haslam said. “David Jones brings 30 years of experience in the energy industry to TRA. I am grateful for his willingness to serve our citizens and appreciate Lt. Gov. Ramsey and Speaker Harwell for their efforts throughout this selection process.”
Passed during this year’s legislative session and signed into law by Haslam, HB 2385/SB 2247 changed the membership of the TRA from four full-time directors to five part-time directors and established the executive director position.
The TRA sets utility rates and service standards of privately-owned telephone, natural gas, electric and water utilities.
Jones has direct experience with large corporations, small businesses and in consulting. He spent 16 years in human resources with a Fortune 250 energy company, and 14 years in field operations, ultimately becoming vice president of Eastern Operations for El Paso Corp. He is the founder and president of davidjonesgroup, a management consulting and executive coaching services company, and he is president of Complete Holdings Group, which provides workers compensation revenue solutions to healthcare providers and payers.
He served as a member of the Southern Gas Association’s Corporation Telelink Network Board of Directors; chairman of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of American Security Committee; vice chairperson of the Oil and Natural Gas Security Coordinating Council; and member of the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee Pandemic Work Group.
Jones has a bachelor’s degree in Management from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a master’s in Business Administration from the University of Houston. He and his wife live in Franklin, and they have two grown children and four grandchildren.

New ‘Fracking’ Rules Approved for TN

Despite concerns from residents and environment groups, the Tennessee Oil and Gas Board approved new rules Friday for the controversial natural-gas extraction practice known as fracking, according to The Tennessean.
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said the regulations provide oversight and will help protect residents if large-scale fracking takes place in Tennessee.
Fracking, or fracturing, is a method in which water and chemicals are injected into shale to break apart rock and release natural gas. The practice can already legally take place in Tennessee.
“Anything we pass today is more stringent than what we have now,” said Jonathon Burr, a program manager with TDEC’s Division of Water Resources.
Still, residents and environmental groups said the state should take more time to put in place rules that protect the public and Tennessee’s water resources. In some states, regulators have found cases in which fracking has led to water pollution.
“Our water table is the most precious natural resource that we as Tennesseans own,” said Richard Diamond, a retired attorney and member of the Swan Conservation Trust in Lewis County. “We can live without natural gas but we cannot live without water.”
Friday’s meeting of the Oil and Gas Board lasted all day and was its last before it merges with the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board on Monday. The six-member board approved the new rules 5-0, with member Peter Claussen leaving before the vote was taken.
The new rules contain pages of technical requirements on how gas wells should be drilled and monitored. The rules also include a public notice requirement and a provision requiring that gas operators disclose in post-drilling reports what chemicals were used in fracking, unless they are considered a trade secret.