Middlemen who obtained nearly half of Maryland's emergency gasoline supplies last month with undocumented claims for rural users will have to verify their requests in the future, Gov. Harry Hughes' special energy assistant said yesterday.
"We're going to get them to tighten up their documentation," said assistant Frederick Dewberry, who conceded that more than 2 million gallons of state-controlled gas was allocated to middlemen in June without any proof of need or assurance that the scarce fuel would reach its intended destination.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that most of the middlemen, or jobbers, acquired the gas simply by requesting a specific amount and discribing the general class of customer -- farmer, contractor, county government of businessman -- who would receive it.
While the jobbers were getting a steady flow of state reserves for their clients in fural sections of Maryland, energy officials steered a smaller portion -- 1.4 million gallons -- to service stations in gas-starved metripolitan areas, such as the Washington suburbs.
Dewberry said the state plans to shift a larger share of this month's emergency stocks to the hard pressed urban communities, although he stood behind last month's decision to give about half of the 4.6 million gallon reserve to rural areas.
Energy oficials will continue to accept applications from jobbers, he said, as Virginia's system of requiring users to directly apply for gas rather than rely on middlemen.
Maryland's reliance on jobbers to help fairly distribute the state-controlled gasoline has come under criticism by federal and Virginia officials who question whether the middlemen actually make their deliveries and how much reaches the intended user.
Even Martin I. Caplan, the Maryland energy official who administers the emergency supply, acknowledged that jobbers mislead him, adding that "all I can do as one man is the keep the hoarding and the hustling to a minimum."
Jobbers interviewed yesterday said they resent the implication that they are misrepresenting their claims. They say they are beseiged with requests by their customers for more gas and have difficulty keeping up with demand, much less hoarding the fuel.
"It's going to the right people, I can guarantee you," said Jack McCanney, president of Eagle Oil Co. in rural Carroll County. "Those poeple [farmers] would string me up and shoot me on Main Street if we were keeping it for ourselves."
McCanny's firm received 48,000 galons of emergency supplies in June on the basis of an application stating general needs -- "agriculture, police, city governments, milk haulers, school buses, fuel distribution, emergency vehicles. . . ."
"Somebody has to trust someone," he added. "I have to trust the farmer who says he needs it. We don't know where that gas is going What if his son-in law has a fleet of five plumbing trucks?"