While California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. was in Washington seeking more gasoline for his state, Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Curb today signed a surprise executive order removing many of California's stringent environmental controls on gasoline production.
"Instead of talking about less and less, which only increases the concern and outrage of our citizens let's talk about how we can produce more gasoline," Curb, acting as governor in Brown's absence, said in a speech to California utility executives. "This is action to produce more, not rhetoric about why we have less."
Brown returned tonight to Los Angeles and promptly blasted Curb for indulging in "political hijinks" by signing the order while Brown was away.
"I went back on business for the people of California to meet with the president and, during that kind of a visit, the lieutenant governor lacks power under the constitution to issue the order he did," Brown told reporters after his aircraft landed at Los Angeles International Airport.
"The lieutenant governor can only act if there is an emergency and if there is an absolute need for that kind of action," Brown siad.
Presumably, Brown could sign contrary regulations Thursday that would leave the law the way it was before Curb's action. However, even if he does, - and he said tonight that he will - the lieutenant goernor's dramatic action is likely to provide a partisan rallying point for Republicans who want to increase gasoline production even if it means removing enviromental controls.
Curb, who has full executive powers when the governor is out of the state, acted under provisions of the emergency declared by Brown last week when he promulgated California's alternate-day gas rationing plan.
So far, the plan has failed to reduce the long lines at gas stations, because dealers say they simply do not have enough gas to remain open for more than a few hours each day.
Under the executive orde signed by Curb, refineries would be able to increase the lead content of gasoline and use some additives they are now prevented by enviromental restrictions from using. This would have the effect of increasing the amount of gasoline than can be obtained from each barrel of crude oil.
Sheldon Lytton, Curb's executive assistant, estimated that the increase would amount to 1 million extra gallons of gasoline production a day, adding about 3 percent to the state's total production.
A variety of proposals have been introduced in the legislature, some of them with bipartisan support, to accomplish what Curb did today with a stroke of a pen. And hearings on the issue were conducted last week by the California Air Resources Board.
Bill Sessa, an Air Resources Board aide, said the hearings left unanswered some questions about whether added lead content might cut gas mileage, thereby offsetting the increase in production.
But it is generally acknowledged in the legislature that some relaxation of the environmental measures was likely, at least for the duration of the present emergency. What Curb did today, working in close cooperation with the Republican legislative minority members, was to steal a march on Brown in an attempt to make GOP seem the party of action on the engergy crisis.
Curb, a photogenic record business millionaire with scant political exprience, has made it a practice to upstage Brown when the governor is out of state. His most publicized such action was the naming of an appeals court justice, an appointment Brown rescinded as soon as he returned to the state.
In defending Curb's action, Lytton said the Republicans will make two points-that the new regulations are temporary and that protections are still stringent under federal law.
Until the present gasoline shortage, California had prided itself on having the strictest smog-control laws in the nation. Pollution-control officials in southern Calimornia observed when the gasoline shortage began that one consequence of it would be to increase smog because some motorists would use leaded gas in cars designed only for unleaded gasoline.
Air pollution has been decreasing in the Los Angeles basin over the past decade, but the smog last summer was the worst in 10 years. CAPTION: Picture, MIKE CURB . . . "This is action to produce more"