By Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator
Louisiana already has 1 million gallons of fuel available if needed for its hurricane response efforts. State lawmakers are considering setting aside another 4 million gallons to address critical shortages in the wake of major storms.
Rep. Daryl Deshotel, R-Hessmer, has proposed the Louisiana Strategic Fuel Reserve in House Bill 1057. It calls for the state to spend $25 million to build three storage tanks at the Central Louisiana Regional Port in Alexandria, according to the bill’s fiscal note. Two tanks would hold gasoline and diesel, and the third would contain ethanol for blending fuels.
The current proposal calls for fuel suppliers to lease the tanks from the port, with the caveat that the state becomes a priority customer during hurricane season. Outside of hurricane season, the fuel could be sold on the open market.
The proposal came before the House Appropriations Committee, where Deshotels told members Monday that he saw the desperate need for gasoline when he took part in relief efforts in Terrebonne Parish after Hurricane Ida last year.
“One of the things that shocked me when I got down there was the lack of fuel,” he said. “We’d pass in front of gas stations and see lines as far as you could see.”
Before his bill was called up, Deshotels said he agreed to defer it because more input was needed from state agencies to ensure effective distribution of the reserve fuel. There have been initial conversations with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness about the HB 1057, but GOHSEP officials did not weigh in on the current version of the proposal, he said.
In addition, lawmakers said the state agriculture department also wants its own fuel reserve.
Committee members raised questions about Deshotels’ bill involving the logistics of getting the fuel supply to where it’s needed most. Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, said not all gas stations can accommodate 18-wheelers, so a distribution plan would have to account for access.
Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, said Hurricane Ida revealed communications gaps involving the fuel supply. Truck drivers were in short supply for a time, and they weren’t always clear or where to pick up or deliver gasoline.
Although he was withholding the bill for the time being, Deshotels stressed the need to change how the state handles fuel supply issues as hurricanes approach and once they make their impact.
“We get long lines at gas stations, we get people without food, we get people without fuel,” he said. “It’s time that we change that mindset and do something that actually moves the needle.”