6The new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was asked yesterday to take restrictive steps against natural gas producers before the advent of cold weather to prevent possible "panic" prices being imposed on unregulated gas.
The Natural Gas Consumers Coalition - a recent formed collective of consumer groups, labor unions and public officials - petitioned the commission to use its authority to increase the flow of gas in regulated interstate pipelines and curtail the flow of natural gas to higher-priced interstate markets.
The coalition charged that consumers had to pay unregulated price for emergency gas supplies last winter because the Federal Power Commission, the predecessor of the FERC, failed to use its authority to move more available natural gas into the regulated interstate market by putting a stop to gas producer practices that favored intrastate markets.
"The only way to get gas was to bribe it out of the [unregulated] intrastate market. We say it is not necessary to pay blackmail prices in order to get gas that we are entitled by law to get at the already too-high controlled prices," said James Flug, director of Energy Action, a public-advocacy group.
Specifically, the coalition asked the FERC to prevent interstate producers from favoring higher-priced intrastate markets; to end diversions of offshore gas by producers to deliver to the national pipelines all the gas they originally agreed to supply.
Moreover, it asked the commission to take another look at the FPC's July, 1976, decision to raise regulated price for new gas from 52 cents to $1.42 per unit.
That decision has been upheld by the U. S. Court of Appeals, and the price currently is $1.47. Moreover, President Carter's proposed energy bill, which originally sought a unit price of $1.75, would codify with existing price scheme.
Since the new commission's inception, Charles Curtis, its chairman, has taken an increasingly acti ve role in trying to assure that interstate natural gas distributors will have sufficient reserves to meet the winter's need, an effort that some signers of the petition acknowledged at a news conference yesterday at the Capitol.
But they also said that because of the uncertainty of gas regulation provisions in the energy bill, urgent action on the petition was necessary as colder weather nears.
Rep. Toby Moffet (D-Conn.), a member of the House-Senate energy bill conference, and one of 19-congressmen to sign the petition, said, "It's possible we might not even finish on natural gas. The conference could end in deadlock . . . with winter on us, it's important this petition is acted upon."
Lee White, an attorney and former FPC chairman, said the FERC could act within 30 days to adopt the measures contained in the petition, thereby increasing regulated gas supplies.
Also supporting the petition, which procedurally is equivalent to a law-suit, are Congress Watch, the Consumer Federation of America's energy policy task force, a number of country governments and state public service commissions and about three dozen state consumer and public-advocacy groups.