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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Franken predicts propane crisis will ease

WASHINGTON D.C. - U.S. Senator Al Franken (DFL-Minneapolis) says the propane crisis isn't over yet, but there's light at the end of the tunnel now that the federal government has ordered a pipeline company to temporarily give priority to propane shipments from Texas to the Midwest. 

Franken says a high level of propane exports, the bitterly cold winter, and switching a propane pipeline to oil all contributed to the shortage.  He says it was "kind of a perfect storm of events" that caused propane prices to shoot from less than two dollars a gallon to over six in some places.  Franken says the next step for lawmakers is to break down those causes and see what can be done to ensure it never happens again.


MnSure's interim CEO updated Minnesota state senators today on progress that's been made in the seven weeks since he took the helm of the troubled state health care exchange.  Scott Leitz says enrollment has increased significantly with over 92,000 people now enrolled through MnSure.  Leitz also says call center wait times are much lower -- five to 15 minutes, compared to 60 minutes before.  And he says while error rates on the website were at 17 percent in November, they are down to around four or five percent now.  But while improvements appear to be significant, MnSure Board Chair Brian Buetner cautions, as with any startup venture, challenges are likely to pop up.  


The head of BNSF Railway has told North Dakota's congressional delegation and ag leaders they're making a significant commitment to resolve the transportation logjam through North Dakota this winter, which is also affecting service to and from Minnesota.  Increased crude oil and freight shipments have largely been blamed for causing rail delays.  BNSF says rail service is also being hampered by bad weather.  North Dakota Senator John Hoeven says BNSF has committed to a five-billion-dollar investment plan in 2014, meaning 500 more locomotives,a like number of rail cars, plus five thousand more people and $600 million in track improvements for the northern tier.  Hoeven says it will make a big difference.  Within two weeks BNSF intends to bring 125 locomotives and additional maintenance workers to North Dakota.  BNSF head Matt Rose said full Amtrak service should be restored by February 28th.  


Minnesota's U.S. House delegation voted along party lines Tuesday on a bill that increases the nation's debt ceiling for one year.  Republicans Michele Bachmann of Stillwater, Erik Paulsen of Eden Prairie and John Kline of Burnsville voted against extending the government's borrowing authority through March 2015.  DFLers Tim Walz of Mankato, Rick Nolan of Duluth, Betty McCollum of St. Paul, Keith Ellison of Minneapolis and Collin Peterson of Detroit Lakes all supported the measure which passed on a narrow 221-201 vote.


Minnesota Credit Union Network's president & CEO says the state's credit unions handed out seven percent more loan dollars last year than in 2012, a good sign that consumer and business confidence continue to improve.  Mark Cummins says member confidence is good for the state as a whole.  Total Minnesota credit union lending increased 202 million dollars in the fourth quarter of 2013.  Loan growth outpaced deposit and asset growth by 720 million.  Cummins says loan growth was well-balanced between real estate and non-real estate loans.