President Carter, in his first move rescinding an action of his predecessor, ordered the Federal Energy Administration yesterday to withdraw a Ford administration proposal to end price controls on gasoline on March 1.
As a result of Carter's action, gasoline will remain under federal price controls first imposed during the Nixon administration. If the controls were lifted, estimates of the resulting rise in gasoline prices ranged from a low of 1 or 2 cents a gallon by the industry and the Ford administration to a high of 8 cents a gallon by opponents of decontrol.
In one of his last official acts the day before he left office. President Ford submitted a gasoline decontrol plan to Congress that would have become effective March 1 unless overturned within 15 days of its submission by either house of Congress.
Carter's action yesterday may have been unnecessary. There was widespread opposition to the Ford plan in Congress, which appeared likely to overturn it on its own.
Moreover, the president specifically did not rule the possibility that he will propose his own decontrol plan for gasoline later.
In a statement the White House press office said that in withdrawing the Ford plan "President carter does no . . . intend to imply any position on the ultimate merits or demerits of gasoline deconteol."
"Instead," the statement continued. The intends to conduct a review of these controls as an intergral part of the development of an overall energy policy. Among other things, such a review will examine the prior administration's contention that competitive market forces would restrain prices for motor gasoline below levels which would be permissible even if controls remained in effect."
The statement added that because of the severe shortage of natural gas brought on by the unusually cold weather, refineries may have to reduce their production of gasoline so they can turn out increased amounts of heating fuels. That, in turn, could affect the gasoline market, making the retention of price controls even more important in the immediate future, it said.
"The administration recognizes that there are significant problems with the exisitng control mechanism, but believes that a hastily considered action removing such controls might create far more serious problems," the statement said.
In other developments yesterday, White House press secretary Jody Powell announced that Carter will receive his first official foreign visitors next month when President Jose Lopez Portillo of Mexico and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeay of Canada visit Washington. The Portillo visit will be Feb. 14 and 15 and the Trudeau visit Feb. 21 and 22, Powell said.
Powell also announced two new appointments to the White House staff, bothe of which had been widely reported earlier.
They are James Fallows, 27, a former editor of The Washington Monthly, who eill be Carter's chief speechwriter, and Barry Jagoda, 32, a former television producer, who will be special assistant to the President for media and public affairs. Both will be paid $37,800 a year.
Powell said that Carter, unlike recent Presidents, has decided not to have a personal photographer. Instead, the White House will have a staff of two or three photographers who will rotate and who will be under the direction of an administrator, he said.
The phtographers, along with Fallows and the seppechwriters and other White House communications operations, have been consolidated under Powell's overall control.
Powell said the White House units under him will have 43 employees, which he said was about 25 per cent fewer employees in those units than in the Ford administration.
Powell also predicted that Carter will hold his first "fireside chat" to the nation and his first news conference since taking office within two weeks.
Yesterday morning, the President presided at his first Cabinet meeting and asked the Cabinet secretaries to supply him in writing "what they plan to do in the next 12 months to see the people."
According to deputy press secretary Rex Granum, Carter urged the Cabinet members to avoid if possible conventions and other gatherings with "fixed agendas" and to attempt to meet people "in a free forums as possible."
Granum said the President also asked for lists of commissions and boards that the Cabinet secretaries consider crucial to their departments. Carter intends to abolish those that are not, he said.
Granum said Carter also intends to visit all the executive branch sepdrtments and to meet with their top staff members. He said Carter promised the Cabinet secretaries access to him and ruged them to speak freely.
If a Cabinet secretary should become or otherwise irritated, Granum said, Carter urged them to come to him "and not let it build up."