The Congress finds that—
(1) propane gas, or liquefied petroleum gas, is an essential energy commodity providing heat, hot water, cooking fuel, and motor fuel among its many uses to millions of Americans;
(2) the use of propane is especially important to rural citizens and farmers, offering an efficient and economical source of gas energy;
(3) propane has been recognized as a clean fuel and can contribute in many ways to reducing the pollution in our cities and towns; and
(4) propane is primarily domestically produced and its use provides energy security and jobs for Americans.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §2, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3370.)
Section 1 of Pub. L. 104–284 provided that: “This Act [enacting this chapter] may be cited as the ‘Propane Education and Research Act of 1996’.”
For the purposes of this chapter—
(1) the term “Council” means a Propane Education and Research Council created pursuant to section 6403 of this title;
(2) the term “industry” means those persons involved in the production, transportation, and sale of propane, and in the manufacture and distribution of propane utilization equipment, in the United States;
(3) the term “industry trade association” means an organization exempt from tax, under section 501(c)(3) or (6) of title 26, representing the propane industry;
(4) the term “odorized propane” means propane which has had odorant added to it;
(5) the term “producer” means the owner of propane at the time it is recovered at a gas processing plant or refinery;
(6) the term “propane” means a hydrocarbon whose chemical composition is predominantly C3H8, whether recovered from natural gas or crude oil, and includes liquefied petroleum gases and mixtures thereof;
(7) the term “public member” means a member of the Council, other than a representative of producers or retail marketers, representing significant users of propane, public safety officials, academia, the propane research community, or other groups knowledgeable about propane;
(8) the term “qualified industry organization” means the National Propane Gas Association, the Gas Processors Association, a successor association of such associations, or a group of retail marketers or producers who collectively represent at least 25 percent of the volume of propane sold or produced in the United States;
(9) the term “retail marketer” means a person engaged primarily in the sale of odorized propane to the ultimate consumer or to retail propane dispensers;
(10) the term “retail propane dispenser” means a person who sells odorized propane to the ultimate consumer but is not engaged primarily in the business of such sales; and
(11) the term “Secretary” means the Secretary of Energy.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §3, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3370.)
The qualified industry organizations may conduct, at their own expense, a referendum among producers and retail marketers for the creation of a Propane Education and Research Council. The Council, if established, shall reimburse the qualified industry organizations for the cost of the referendum accounting and documentation. Such referendum shall be conducted by an independent auditing firm agreed to by the qualified industry organizations. Voting rights in such referendum shall be based on the volume of propane produced or odorized propane sold in the previous calendar year or other representative period. Upon approval of those persons representing two-thirds of the total volume of propane voted in the retail marketer class and two-thirds of all propane voted in the producer class, the Council shall be established, and shall be authorized to levy an assessment on odorized propane in accordance with section 6405 of this title. All persons voting in the referendum shall certify to the independent auditing firm the volume of propane represented by their vote.
On the Council's own initiative, or on petition to the Council by producers and retail marketers representing 35 percent of the volume of propane in each class, the Council shall, at its own expense, hold a referendum, to be conducted by an independent auditing firm selected by the Council, to determine whether the industry favors termination or suspension of the Council. Termination or suspension shall not take effect unless it is approved by persons representing more than one-half of the total volume of odorized propane in the retail marketer class and more than one-half of the total volume of propane in the producer class, or is approved by persons representing more than two-thirds of the total volume of propane in either such class.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §4, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3371.)
The qualified industry organizations shall select all retail marketer, public, and producer members of the Council. The producer organizations shall select the producer members of the Council, the retail marketer organizations shall select retail marketer members, and all qualified industry organizations shall jointly select the public members. Vacancies in unfinished terms of Council members shall be filled in the same manner as were the original appointments.
In selecting members of the Council, the qualified industry organizations shall give due regard to selecting a Council that is representative of the industry, including representation of—
(1) gas processors and oil refiners among producers;
(2) interstate and intrastate operators among retail marketers;
(3) large and small companies among producers and retail marketers, including agricultural cooperatives; and
(4) diverse geographic regions of the country.
The Council shall consist of 21 members, with 9 members representing retail marketers, 9 members representing producers, and 3 public members. Other than the public members, Council members shall be full-time employees or owners of businesses in the industry or representatives of agricultural cooperatives. No employee of a qualified industry organization or other industry trade association shall serve as a member of the Council, and no member of the Council may serve concurrently as an officer of the Board of Directors of a qualified industry organization or other industry trade association. Only one person at a time from any company or its affiliate may serve on the Council.
Council members shall receive no compensation for their services, nor shall Council members be reimbursed for expenses relating to their service, except that public members, upon request, may be reimbursed for reasonable expenses directly related to their participation in Council meetings.
Council members shall serve terms of 3 years and may serve not more than 2 full consecutive terms. Members filling unexpired terms may serve not more than a total of 7 consecutive years. Former members of the Council may be returned to the Council if they have not been members for a period of 2 years. Initial appointments to the Council shall be for terms of 1, 2, and 3 years, staggered to provide for the selection of 7 members each year.
The Council shall develop programs and projects and enter into contracts or agreements for implementing this chapter, including programs to enhance consumer and employee safety and training, to provide for research and development of clean and efficient propane utilization equipment, to inform and educate the public about safety and other issues associated with the use of propane, and to provide for the payment of the costs thereof with funds collected pursuant to this chapter. The Council shall coordinate its activities with industry trade association and others as appropriate to provide efficient delivery of services and to avoid unnecessary duplication of activities.
Not less than 5 percent of the funds collected through assessments pursuant to this chapter shall be used for programs and projects intended to benefit the agriculture industry in the United States. The Council shall coordinate its activities in this regard with agriculture industry trade associations and other organizations representing the agriculture industry. The percentage of funds collected through assessments pursuant to this chapter to be used for projects relating to the use of propane as an over-the-road motor fuel shall not exceed the percentage of the total market for odorized propane that is used as a motor vehicle fuel, based on the historical average of such use over the previous 3-year period.
Issues related to research and development, safety, education, and training shall be given priority by the Council in the development of its programs and projects.
The Council shall select from among its members a Chairman and other officers as necessary, may establish committees and subcommittees of the Council, and shall adopt rules and bylaws for the conduct of business and the implementation of this chapter. The Council shall establish procedures for the solicitation of industry comment and recommendations on any significant plans, programs, and projects to be funded by the Council. The Council may establish advisory committees of persons other than Council members.
(1) The administrative expenses of operating the Council (not including costs incurred in the collection of the assessment pursuant to section 6406 of this title) plus amounts paid under paragraph (2) shall not exceed 10 percent of the funds collected in any fiscal year.
(2) The Council shall annually reimburse the Secretary for costs incurred by the Federal Government relating to the Council, except that such reimbursement for any fiscal year shall not exceed the amount that the Secretary determines is the average annual salary of two employees of the Department of Energy.
Before August 1 each year, the Council shall publish for public review and comment a budget plan for the next calendar year, including the probable costs of all programs, projects, and contracts and a recommended rate of assessment sufficient to cover such costs. Following this review and comment, the Council shall submit the proposed budget to the Secretary and to the Congress. The Secretary may recommend programs and activities the Secretary considers appropriate.
The Council shall keep minutes, books, and records that clearly reflect all of the acts and transactions of the Council and make public such information. The books of the Council shall be audited by a certified public accountant at least once each fiscal year and at such other times as the Council may designate. Copies of such audit shall be provided to all members of the Council, all qualified industry organizations, and to other members of the industry upon request. The Secretary shall receive notice of meetings and may require reports on the activities of the Council, as well as reports on compliance, violations, and complaints regarding the implementation of this chapter.
(1) All meetings of the Council shall be open to the public after at least 30 days advance public notice.
(2) The minutes of all meetings of the Council shall be made available to and readily accessible by the public.
Each year the Council shall prepare and make publicly available a report which includes an identification and description of all programs and projects undertaken by the Council during the previous year as well as those planned for the coming year. Such report shall also detail the allocation or planned allocation of Council resources for each such program and project.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §5, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3371.)
The Council shall set the initial assessment at no greater than one tenth of 1 cent per gallon of odorized propane. Thereafter, annual assessments shall be sufficient to cover the costs of the plans and programs developed by the Council. The assessment shall not be greater than one-half cent per gallon of odorized propane, unless approved by a majority of those voting in a referendum in both the producer and the retail marketer class. In no case may the assessment be raised by more than one tenth of 1 cent per gallon of odorized propane annually.
The owner of odorized propane at the time of odorization, or the time of import of odorized propane, shall make the assessment based on the volume of odorized propane sold and placed into commerce. Assessments collected are payable to the Council on a monthly basis by the 25th of the month following the month of such collection. Propane exported from the United States to another country is not subject to the assessment.
The Council may establish an alternative means of collecting the assessment if another means is found to be more efficient and effective. The Council may establish a late payment charge and rate of interest to be imposed on any person who fails to remit or pay to the Council any amount due under this chapter.
Pending disbursement pursuant to a program, plan, or project, the Council may invest funds collected through assessments, and any other funds received by the Council, only in obligations of the United States or any agency thereof, in general obligations of any State or any political subdivision thereof, in any interest-bearing account or certificate of deposit of a bank that is a member of the Federal Reserve System, or in obligations fully guaranteed as to principal and interest by the United States.
The Council shall establish a program coordinating the operation of the Council with those of any State propane education and research council created by State law or regulation, or similar entity. Such coordination shall include a joint or coordinated assessment collection process, a reduced assessment, or an assessment rebate. A reduced assessment or rebate shall be 20 percent of the regular assessment collected in that State under this section. Assessment rebates shall be paid only to—
(1) a State propane education and research council created by State law or regulation that meets requirements established by the Council for specific programs approved by the Council; or
(2) a similar entity, such as a foundation established by the retail propane gas industry in that State, that meets requirements established by the Council for specific programs approved by the Council.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §6, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3374.)
The Council may bring suit in Federal court to compel compliance with an assessment levied by the Council under this chapter. A successful action for compliance under this section may also require payment by the defendant of the costs incurred by the Council in bringing such action.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §7, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3374.)
No funds collected by the Council shall be used in any manner for influencing legislation or elections, except that the Council may recommend to the Secretary changes in this chapter or other statutes that would further the purposes of this chapter.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §8, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3375.)
Beginning 2 years after establishment of the Council and annually thereafter, the Secretary of Commerce, using only data provided by the Energy Information Administration and other public sources, shall prepare and make available to the Council, the Secretary of Energy, and the public an analysis of changes in the price of propane relative to other energy sources. The propane price analysis shall compare indexed changes in the price of consumer grade propane to a composite of indexed changes in the price of residential electricity, residential natural gas, and refiner price to end users of No. 2 fuel oil on an annual national average basis. For purposes of indexing changes in consumer grade propane, residential electricity, residential natural gas, and end user No. 2 fuel oil prices, the Secretary of Commerce shall use a 5-year rolling average price beginning with the year 4 years prior to the establishment of the Council.
If in any year the 5-year average rolling price index of consumer grade propane exceeds the 5-year rolling average price composite index of residential electricity, residential natural gas, and refiner price to end users of No. 2 fuel oil in an amount greater than 10.1 percent, the activities of the Council shall be restricted to research and development, training, and safety matters. The Council shall inform the Secretary of Energy and the Congress of any restriction of activities under this subsection. Upon expiration of 180 days after the beginning of any such restriction of activities, the Secretary of Commerce shall again conduct the propane price analysis described in subsection (a) of this section. Activities of the Council shall continue to be restricted under this subsection until the price index excess is 10.1 percent or less.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §9, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3375.)
In all cases, the price of propane shall be determined by market forces. Consistent with the antitrust laws, the Council may take no action, nor may any provision of this chapter be interpreted as establishing an agreement to pass along to consumers the cost of the assessment provided for in section 6405 of this title.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §10, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3375.)
Nothing in this chapter may be construed to preempt or supersede any other program relating to propane education and research organized and operated under the laws of the United States or any State.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §11, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3375.)
Within 2 years after October 11, 1996, and at least once every 2 years thereafter, the Secretary of Commerce shall prepare and submit to the Congress and the Secretary a report examining whether operation of the Council, in conjunction with the cumulative effects of market changes and Federal programs, has had an effect on propane consumers, including residential, agriculture, process, and nonfuel users of propane. The Secretary of Commerce shall consider and, to the extent practicable, shall include in the report submissions by propane consumers, and shall consider whether there have been long-term and short-term effects on propane prices as a result of Council activities and Federal programs, and whether there have been changes in the proportion of propane demand attributable to various market segments. To the extent that the report demonstrates that there has been an adverse effect, the Secretary of Commerce shall include recommendations for correcting the situation. Upon petition by affected parties or upon request by the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Commerce may prepare and submit the report required by this section at less than 2-year intervals.
(Pub. L. 104–284, §12, Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3375.)