The Reagan administration has decided to delay by one year its target date for removing all price controls from natural gas, Energy Secretary James Edwards said yesterday.
Edwards said President Reagan will propose in February or March that Congress act to accelerate decontrol of natural gas prices beginning Jan. 1, 1983, with all price controls removed by Jan. 1, 1986. Such a plan might be approved by June or July, he added.
The administration chose to delay the start of the price rises until after the 1982 congressional elections in hopes of dampening fears of some congressmen about voting for price increases for the country's most popular heating fuel in an election year, Edwards said.
There was no indication Reagan will propose a windfall profits tax on gas producers. Numerous members of Congress have told the administration a faster decontrol schedule is unlikely to be approved, particularly in the House, unless such a tax is part of the package. Reagan has promised publicly to veto any bill imposing such a tax.
The latest version of the administration plan actually would extend controls on some gas for longer than they currently are scheduled to be in effect. Under the decontrol timetable set up by the 1978 Natural Gas Policy Act, controls on supplies of newly discovered gas are scheduled to expire Jan. 1, 1985.
However, this gas from wells that began producing after April 20, 1977, represents only about 60 percent of U.S. supplies. The remaining supplies of gas discovered earlier are scheduled to remain under price controls until the gas is depleted.
Originally, the Cabinet Council on Natural Resources recommended that Reagan seek removal of all price controls by 1985. However, the president chose to delay submitting that plan to Congress for several months in the face of strong opposition.
The plan Edwards outlined in a speech yesterday differs only in timing from the package approved last July by the Cabinet Council.