In deciding to issue fuel rationing orders that have stopped or drastically reduced the paychecks of thousands of Virginians, Gov. Mills E. Godwin relied primarily on the judgement of long time administrative and legal advisers rather than on thorough technical assessments.
Interviews with state and utility officials who did and did not participate directly in advising the governor give a picture of a decisive government action shaped largely by the absence of information.
Before Godwin ordered every retail merchant and service in the state to cut business hours to 40 a week, there was:
No technical assessment of the relative supplies of the three primary fuels - electricity, which is in ample supply, fuel oil, which is subject to sport shortages, and natural gas, which is critically short.
No estimate of how much, if any, fuel would be saved by imposing the 40-hour limit on what is thought by utility officials to be a small part of the fuel consumption market.
No determination that any savings in fuel oil would actually result in transfers from commercial to residential users. The goal of all fuel rationing has been to protect residential users from being without heat.
No estimate of how much unemployment and under-employment would result from the restrictions on businesses that have large numbers of employees.
No assessment of whether differences that exist in fuel supplies in different regions of the state justified a regional rather than statewide approach to rationing.
In the absence of the information on these points, such Godwin intimates as Robert Mellwaine, his personal legal advisor, and Carter C. Lowance, his top administrative aide, counseled the governor to apply rationing evenly among retail users. The apparent goal was to prevent sudden shifts in demand for one fuel to another, especially from gas and oil to electricity.
Godwin has said in press conferences that this was the aim, but state officials still have been unable to say with any certainty that any significant shift would or could take place.
Godwin's rationing decision was made last Friday after the State Corporation supplied by gas pipeline and distribution companies, ordered a curtailment of gas service but residential customers and businesses providing essential services. The Godwin orders affecting all fuel use were announced on Saturday and became effective the next day.
As recently as the night before the decision was made, legislators have said, Godwin told Northern Virginia General Assembly members attending a reception at the governor's mansion that gas supplies in the Washington area apparently were sufficient to make rationing unnecessary. He made no mention of limiting the use of either electricity or fuel oil.
The shape of the Godwin rationing order does not surprise former state officials who are familiar with McIlwaine's role in the formulation of the gasoline sales allocation plan put into effect by Godwin during the Arab oil embargo.
One of these former officials said, "I can just see Bob telling the governor, 'If we don't apply this thing to everyone, we're likely to have chaos.'"
McIlwaine's advice, combined with Godwin's inclination for decisive moves based on his own well-informated political assessment, often is very successful. The best recent example is their decision to seek an end to public employee collective bargaining in Virginia through a court suit rather than a legislative prohibition.
Godwin concluded that the General Assembly would never resolve the issue either way. After losing in a lower court he won a unanimous ruling from the State Supreme Court that public employee bargaining violates the constitution.
Fuel rationing has taken Godwin, McIlwaine and Lowance out of their familiar world of law, politics and government administration and into a wilderness of fuel demand curves and delivery systems.
Their decisions are having such conspicuous effects as dramatic unemployment, confusion in implementation of the closing rules and obvious disparities in the Washington area, where merchants sharing the same gas and oil supplies and having access to electric reserves are being forced to close while competitors in Washington and Maryland remain open.
These effects are beginning to raise questions Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria) today called for a Senate inquiry into the need and implementation of the rationing plan.
He got no response from the Senate's Democratic leadership, but on the House side of the Assembly, such political opposites and Dels. Raymond E. Vickery (D-Fairfax), a Northern Virginia liberial, and Alson H. Smith (D-Winchester), Shenandoah Valley conservative, are quietly organizing a fact-finding session for Assembly members.
Smith owns a fast food chain and has been forced to reduce its 10-hours a week operation in Virginia by 60 per cent. "When this thing was first ordered, I accepted it, as something that had to be done," he said. "I didn't really question it. But now it looks like it might have been an over-reaction. Don't be surprised if there are some revisions soon."
By 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel had decided to exercise some of the extraordinary authority contained in the emergency powers act he had used only once before, at the start of the gasoline shortage in late 1973.
Mandel's first step was to contact Simon F. McHugh Jr., the aide to Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III who has co-ordinated the state's energy policy. McHugh had just been seated at the annual banquet of the Alfalfa Club at the Capital Hilton in Washington when he was paged to a nearby phone.
Mandel shouted his decision to McHugh over the strains of the Marine Band, which was playing about 20 feet from McHugh ("We didn't talk during the National Anthem, though," said McHugh). The governor told McHugh to round up the executives of the leading firm affected by the energy crisis and ask them to come to the Governor's Mansion on Sunday.
McHugh, with the help of Mandel press aide Thom C. Burden, reached the last of the affected leaders by noon Sunday, and at 4 p.m., two-dozen officials of the state's gas and oil industry were sitting in circle on the first-floor drawing room of the mansion.
For two hours, representatives of the natural gas utilitites - Washington Gas Light, Baltimore Gas & Electric, Cheasapeake Utilities, Columbia, Gas of Maryland and the heating oil suppliers - Amoco, Texaco, Gulf, Exxon, Blue Ridge Oil, Rittenhouse Fuel and Southern Maryland Oil and the Maryland Petroleum Association, Oil Jobbers Council and the Oil Heat Association discussed the options.
Mandel Lt. Gov. Lee, Public Service Commission chairman Tom Hatem, Rinaldo Van Brunt of the state civil defense office, Jack Hewitt, director of the office of energy policy, State Sen. Harry J. McGuirk, chief legislative aide Alan M. Wilner and McHugh listened.
After discussing the options in general terms, the executives then carried their chairs to separate corners of the room to make specific decisions because of what Mandel terms "an absurb anti-trust law" that forbids the major oil companies from making joint policy decisions. "Not even the President can get them to sit down in one room," said Mandel.
There were practical considerations. "We obviously can't go into homes and turn down thermostats," McHugh said.
So a relatively conservative decision was made by Mandel, especially compared to the decision made a day earlier by Godwin.