House bill to regulate natural gas companies passes Senate
By John McPhaul
A bill that, among other things, prohibits wholesale liquefied gas companies to become retailers, passed the Senate after being approved last Tuesday in the House of Representatives.
Representative Estrella Martínez Soto, president of the Chamber’s Consumer Affairs Committee, reported that Bill 899 of her authorship is “to create the Law for the Control of the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Industry, in Consumer Protection .”
“It seeks to establish regulations and obligations for the entire distribution chain in the Liquefied Gas Industry. Including the disengagement of wholesalers in the operations of the distribution or retail business,,” she added.
She mentioned that the legislative piece obliges importers and distributors, who, in a term not exceeding 18 months, must dispose of those businesses in which some kind of relationship with retail sales exists.
In addition, it requires the obligation to provide detailed invoices to each client.
“Finally, a term of ninety days is imposed on the Department of Justice (DJ) to investigate the referrals it receives on matters related to the liquefied gas industry and that could constitute monopolistic actions. In this way, our goal is to promote the protection and safety of our consumers. Let us remember that the liquefied gas industry is vital in the lives of Puerto Ricans since it is estimated that some 600,000 families use it daily to prepare their food. This is a matter of energy and food security for the country, so we cannot allow the economy of Puerto Ricans to continue to be affected and put the future of the country at risk,” said the representative.
She said that the liquefied gas industry maintains “predatory commercial conduct” by increasing the prices of liquefied gas without complying with the processes established by the Department of Consumer Affairs for these matters.
In addition, in her opinion, the only two companies in Puerto Rico operate as a monopoly.
“By 2019, the Puma company abandoned the liquefied gas market, leaving it in the hands of two companies: Empire Gas, which controls 75 percent of the market, and Tropigas, which controls 25 percent. This is of the utmost concern since the said constitution of the market provides the perfect conditions for a monopoly to be created, prices to be set arbitrarily, and consumer rights to be violated. It should be noted that the Office of Monopolistic Affairs, after an extensive investigation and review of documents, determined that one of the wholesale liquefied gas companies was engaging in illegal price discrimination practices,” she concluded.