With a warning that "our energy problems will not be solved next year or the year after." President Carter yesterday asked Congress for emergency authority to take price controls off some natural gas and allocate it to areas of greatest need.
In a brief apperance before reporter, the President also renewed his call for Americans to turn their home thermostats down to 65 degrees in the daytime, and "much lower" at night.
"It's important to be frank. This bill will not end the shortages . . . it will not solve the unemployment problem," Carter said. "Its purpose is just to ensure that no portion of our country must go without essential services . . . "
Some 4,000 plants have closed and 400,000 workers have been laid off in the Eastern half of the nation, which is gripped by a three-week-old cold wave. Carter said.
". . . Continued layoffs of workers will seriously harm our chances for economic recovery on which were working so hard . .
"Finally, I must say frankly that this is not a temporary request for conservation . . . further sacrifices in addition to lowering thermostats may well be necessary. But I believe this country's strong enough and tough enough to meet that challenge." he said.
As Carter spoke, reports from around the country indicated that despite a brief warming trend in many areas, the shortage of natural gas was becoming worse.
Pennsylvania Gov. Milton J. Shapp ordered all public and private elementary and secondary schools closed at least until Monday to conserve fuel. Without "his drastic action," one official said, there would be "thousands upon thousands" of layoffs all over the state.
Ohio school superintendent Marun Essex said that state would begin a "sweeping closing of schools" next week and Gov. James A. Rhodes suspended enforcement of federal environmental regulations to allow the burning of smoky, high-sulfur fuels.
Ohio is the hardest-hit state, with some of its officials claiming layoffs of 400,000 to 500,000 workers there alone. Rhodes who declared an energy emergency last week, said he is considering declaring an energy crises, under which his powers would be almost equal to martial law.
Unless something is done, "our gas will be gone by Feb. 10," Rhodes said. He asked all residents to pray this Sunday for an end to the emergency. Weather forcasters predict a new cold wave will plunge temperatures below zero in Ohio by the weekend.
Carter said that half the nation's pipeline companies have already "curtailed shipments to major industrial users," and two have curtailed gas shipments to some "Priority 1" users - private homes, small businessess and hospitals.
John F. O'Leary, Carter's nominee to head the Federal Energy Administration, told the Senate Interior Committee yesterday the natural gas shortage is a danger "equal to" the Arab oil embargo of 1973.
He painted a gloomier picture than Carter, saying that only five of the 22 major pipelines reporting to the FEA had not been forced to curtail services to big industrial customers as of last Monday. Four governors have declared states of emergency, O'Leary said.
James R. Schlesinger, Carter's White House energy adviser, also was pessimistic, saying the most effective relief would be arrival of warmer weather.
The emergency legislation is "a minimum bill" designed to "thread its way through various points of view in the Congress," he said.
The nation needs "far more bold steps, primarily conservation," he said. We are "using the gas we expected to use in February and March," Schlesinger told reporters. If all families cooperate in lowering thermostats, the shortage could be cut in half, he said.
Natural gas supplies in the East are down below 40 per cent of capacity, some 20 per cent less than was on hand a year ago, Schlesinger said.
He appealed to gas producers to "during this crisis move as much gas to market as they possible can," and to use restraint in increasing prices on the 2 per cent of natural gas which Carter said could see "somewhat" higher prices.
But Schlesinger added, "We cannot estimate at the moment the amount of gas that might be shaken out of the intrastate market by emergency sales." Many of the producing states have been hard hit by unusual cold, he said, adding that the proposals may only give the administration authority to "allocate some of the shortages."
President's proposals, drawn up by Schlesinger in consultation with industry and Capitol Hill experts, include:
A pooling arrangement, which expires April 30, allowing the President to order gas shipments to particular areas he has been advised by a governor that curtailment of resident service is imminent.
A lifting of price controls, which expire July 31, allowing interstate pipeline companies to buy gas from intrastate pipeline companies at higher prices than normall permitted. Presently, experts have said, the fact the gas sold intrastate is not price controlled tends to keep gas within a state.
Authority for the President to roll back prices on emergency sales if they are not, in his view, "fair and equitable." Schlesinger said the exact mechanism for the rollbacks had not yet been determined. The Federal Power Commission last week refused to let one company buy gas under existing 60-day emergency regulating until the purchase price was rolled down from $2.75 per thousand cubic feet to $2,25. Schlesinger said he hoped the price would not rise much above $2.25 under Carter's proposals.
Authority for the federal government to build and pay for facilities to help shunt gas from one pipeline company to another. Schlesinger said he expected the cost of construction under that provision to be in the "tens of millions" of dollars.
Subpoena power and other provisions for correcting what Schlesinger said was "a paucity of information" about natural gas production and reserves.
Congressional leaders geared up for speedy action on the proposals, with the Senate bypassing the usual referal to committee and preparing for debate Friday with votes on amendments possible as early as Monday.
House leaders plan committee hearings Friday, and hope for a floor debate Tuesday under a quick procedure which suspends the rules, limits debate to 40 minutes, allows no amendments, and requires a two-thirds vote.
"This bill will not solve the shortages. It will permit minimum supplies to continue the flow of gas to residences and other essential services," Schlesinger said.
The pipeline companies and natural gas producers "are, I believe, prepared to act quickly," he said. "They have, of course, given no assurances, but they have been very cooperative."
A press aide to Carter said later that the President does not want people to break state and local laws tha t prohibit turning thermostats in apartment buildings down to 65 degrees.
Where such laws exist, the aide said, Carter hopes a way of cooperating can be found.
State officials in California and Iowa yesterday reaffirmed their policies of keeping state buildings at 68 degrees, despite Carter's plea.