A coalition of labor, consumer and environmental groups called yesterday for a national day of protest on Oct. 17 to build support for an alternative to the Carter administration's energy policies.
The sponsors of the "campaign for lower energy prices" are seeking passage of what they call a "citizen's energy program" consisting of price controls on crude oil, heating oil and natural gas, appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate shortages and insure that oil refineries work at full capacity, and the establishment of a taxpayer-owned energy corporation.
William Winpisinger, president of the International Association of Machinists and one of the leaders of the coalition, argued that "the way to deal with phony shortages is not to reward the oil companies with higher prices and higher profits but to force them to stop causing shortages and to prosecute them when they do."
Douglas Fraser, president of the United Auto Workers, said his union would continue to support the campaign, as it did on Aug. 22 when UAW members across the country filled out some 4 million cards -- by UAW estimate -- which were sent to President Carter, members of Congress and other officials asking for a new energy policy.
Consumer activist Ralph Nader, another supporter, said that meetings are planned in many cities and towns to map out a "campaign which will continue through the winter."
"We want to reach all those who are angry, but who feel buried by the bigness of the oil industry and bullied by callous politicians who have allowed them to suffer under monopoly energy prices," Nader declared.
Nader said that there will be marches in several state capitals, including Charleston, W.Va., and in other cities such as Cleveland and Chicago on Oct. 17. There will also be demonstrations at the corporate headquarters of major oil companies that day.
President Carter has announced that he intends to decontrol U.S. crude oil prices by Sept. 30, 1981. The Natural Gas Policy Act, passed last year by Congress, will raise most natural gas prices over a span of several years and decontrol them in 1987.
Many energy economists have argued that energy prices should be decontrolled to encourage conservation and added energy production. Trying to redistribute income from energy producers to energy users, including the poor, by controlling prices leads to more energy consumption while redistributing income in a very haphazard way, they say.
William Hutton, executive director of the National Council of Senior Citizens, said his organization was involved in the campaign because of the impact of big energy bills on the elderly.
"For the average retired couple forced to survive on Social Security checks of under $300 a month, a heating season worth of bills amounting close to $2,000 is a real calamity," he said. "It would require a great leap of faith to believe that these old people will be helped by the president's $50 fuel assistance check."
Meanwhile, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, announced that his subcommittee would hold a hearing today on information showing that refiner, wholesaler and retailer markups on home heating oil have risen sharply in the past year.
A short study done for the subcommittee by Susan Bodilly, a senior reference assistant at the Congressional Research Service, showed that the higher margins may be costing consumers $1 billion or more annually.