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Fuel regulations

We all know the old expression “you can’t fight city hall,” suggesting that once a government – at any level – has made a decision, it is very difficult to get it to budge. That’s not entirely true, but effecting a change in policy, regulation or direction once it is on the books can be a slow, gruelling task.


April 21, 2010
By Gord Ellis

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We all know the old expression “you can’t fight city hall,” suggesting that once a government – at any level – has made a decision, it is very difficult to get it to budge. That’s not entirely true, but effecting a change in policy, regulation or direction once it is on the books can be a slow, gruelling task.

That, unfortunately, is the challenge facing Ontario’s propane industry, as it copes with new rules following the 2008 explosion at Sunrise Propane in north Toronto.

Ironically, the provincial government moved very quickly – too quickly, some might argue – when it came to developing the new regs. Within a few months of the Sunrise incident, an “expert panel” had been convened and made its recommendations. Not long after that, comprehensive amendments to Regulation 440/08, rules governing propane storage and handling, were introduced.

It is worth noting that throughout this process, the Ontario Propane Association (OPA) publicly voiced its support, vowing to cooperate as the new regulations came into force. Despite some misgivings within the industry, this support was genuine. At least, it was until the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) released its implementation guideline, which went beyond the regulation to impose even more onerous requirements. 

Primary among the industry’s concerns is the TSSA requirement that a professional engineer approve RSMPs for installations of all sizes – at great cost – despite the regulation’s stipulation that a person with “specialized knowledge” could approve RSMPs for transfer facilities under 30,000 USWG.

Efforts to convince the TSSA that the guideline went too far – that it is unworkable, unenforceable and would result in the closure of many propane installations – fell on deaf ears.

Faced with this intransigence, the OPA has embarked on a government relations strategy to inform political decision-makers of the situation and solicit their help in implementing feasible solutions.

In any government relations strategy, it is imperative to frame what you are looking for – known in lobbying circles as “the ask” – so that it aligns with the government of the day’s philosophy. It is also important to position the outcome as a “win-win,” ensuring that there is some benefit to the government (i.e., measures they believe will gain, not cost, them votes).

As such, the OPA’s approach has been to emphasize public safety – the government’s paramount concern – while offering proposals to lessen the negative impact on the industry’s ability to do business cost-effectively.

The OPA has drafted a clear, concise briefing paper, outlining the key issues, detailing the potentially severe impact on jobs and communities, and providing carefully-thought-out proposals – including a certification process for “specialized knowledge” – to address these concerns while still maintaining stringent and effective safety practices.

It is a multi-pronged approach. The Ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services no longer exists, so the OPA is focusing on both the Ministry of Consumer Services and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade (which is now responsible for Small Business). The association is also putting together an MPP contact plan to generate local support among elected officials, especially in communities that will be most adversely affected by propane facility closures.

To date, the reception has been positive and sympathetic, albeit non-committal.

Some within the industry have suggested a more aggressive approach, including a media campaign to point out the folly of the TSSA’s stance. At some point this may be an advisable strategy, but it is risky – governments will fight back – and should be considered a last resort only after all other options have been exhausted. 

Right now, there is still hope for a satisfactory resolution, so it makes sense to continue taking the proverbial “high road.”

Deadlines for meeting the new requirements are creating a strong sense of urgency within the industry, and the OPA is doing everything it can to expedite briefings, including with the new Minister of Consumer Services, to move the process along quickly – even in the maddeningly slow world of government.

About the OPA
The Ontario Propane Association (OPA) represents the interests of propane retailers, transporters, producers, wholesalers and suppliers to the industry of Ontario. The Association offers the propane industry a unified voice on matters of concern to all its members, to various sectors of the government and to the public of Ontario.

Members of the OPA have endorsed a Responsible Management plan whereby a company is committed to the concept of responsible transportation, storage, handling, distribution, use and ultimate disposal of our product in order to safe-guard human health and the environment.

The OPA is recognized as a training provider in Ontario by the Technical Standards & Safety Authority.

The OPA offers a wide range of courses to all members of the propane industry in Ontario and issues all recognized Records of Training (ROT’s).