President Carter's forthcoming emergency energy proposals will, in effect, remove price controls on some natural gas for the next few months, and give government the authority to order companies to send gas into high-priority areas, Capitol Hill sources said yesterday.
They will also primarily benefit homes and small commercial businesses, not large industries, according to Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.
A staff member of the Federal Power Commission indicated the proposals may have the effect of moving gas shortages around, making mild shortages worse in order to ease critical shortages, because there are no large supplies of unneeded gas in any markets.
Carter, who has not given any public clues as to what might be in his proposals, said yesterday through his press secretary, Jody Powell, that they would be sent to Congress today, that they would lead to "some marginal increases" in natural gas prices, and that they were worked up "jointly by the Hill" and White House energy advises James R. Schlesinger.
Administration officials briefed congressional leaders twice on the proposals yesterday, holding an afternoon meeting after some members of Congress who attended a morning breakfast with Carter complained that they were not being consulted enough.
Powell said that at the breakfast meeting, the first, for the Democratic congressional leadership, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (W. Va.), in particular, "felt . . . the contact between the White House and the leadership on this particular matter had not been as close as it should have been."
"I feel sure that the contact on that matter has by this time become close, intensive and intimate," Powell said.
House majority Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.), as well as staff members of the Senate and House Commerce committees, said Carter will ask for:
A five- of six-month period during which interstate pipelines could buy gas on an emergency basis outside the regular price controls of the Federal Power Commission. The commission now allows such emergency sales only for 60-day periods, but last week liberalized its policies somewhat to allow repeating 60-day periods under certain conditions.
Emergency authority for the President to order pipeline companies to transfer gas among themselves, in order to get the fuel to where the highest priority users, homes, hospitals and businesses using less than 50,000 cubic feet a day, may be threatened with shortages.
Brademas said Carter also remarked at yesterday's breakfast that his directive to set federal thermostats at 65 degrees will probably have to stay in effect "for the next several years."
Several years ago the FPC tried on its own to allow emergency removal of some price controls for up to six months, but a federal appeals court ruled that it could not do so without authorization from congress.
At the hour-long breakfast meeting, Carter asked the leaders to push for quick passage of his proposals.
Powell said the administration has taken several other steps in hope of easing the fuel crisis brought on by a bitterly cold winter in much of the nation, including:
An order Monday night from Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus lifting production ceilings on natural gas wells located on federal land. Most such wells are in the Gulf of Mexico, and last year produced 300 billion of the 16.6 trillion cubic feet of gas the nation used, according to the FPC. Whether lifting production ceilings will result in substantially more production has been a matter of bitter dispute in Congress for the past two years.
An Interstate Commerce Commission order issued Friday at the urging of the Federal Energy Administration relaxing licensing requirements for intrastate tank trucks so they can carry emergency fuel in interstate commerce, and requiring railroads to expedite handling of fuel cars, both full and empty.
Telephone hot lines in state and federal energy offices to help critically short users find fuel supplies.
"As the President stated on Friday," Powell said, "the single most important action that can be taken would be for all Americans to turn their thermostats down to 65 degrees during the day and lower at night."