Threatened with possible shutdowns by the nation's service station owners, the Energy Department announced several proposals yesterday to boost dealers' profit margins.
The station owners, claiming their profits have been frozen since 1973 while inflation soared, have been demanding price increases that could boost gasoline prices at the pump as much as 4 cents a gallon.
The proposed regulations unveiled by the Energy Department's Economic Regulatory Administration don't give specific increases. Officials said that decision will be made after comments are obtained from consumers and service station owners.
The options being considered are:
Allowing a fixed percentage profit markup on the price station owners pay for gasoline. Dealers would like to get 30 percent of the 60 cents per gallon they pay wholesalers.
Setting a fixed monetary per-gallon markup. Service stations now receive about 12 cents a gallon and one recommendation would increase that to 15 cents.
Setting a uniform national or regional price ceiling on gasoline and allowing any charges up to that amount.
Allowing a flat, unspecified pass-through of non-gasoline costs to service station owners. The National Congress of Petrolium Retailers, representing 60,000 owners, is seeking a 4-cents-per-gallon increase.
The Energy Department said the proposed rules "would be aimed at covering real cost increases which dealers have experienced and making price ceilings easier for customers to understand and goverments to enforce."
Currently service stations are limited essentially to receiving the profit they made on May 15, 1973, plus passing on to consumer wholesale price increases on gasoline. They also can pass on 3 cents a gallon to cover overhead costs.
Jack Vandenbert, a DOE spokesman, said the decision on profit increases will be made after the deadline for public comment on July 26 by David Bardin, head of the Economic Regulatory Administration.
Despite the government's move in the direction of raising profit margins, service station owners may not be pleased with waiting to the end of July for a decision.
Last week at a conference, gasoline retailers spokesman Jack W. Houston said, "We have been sitting on a keg of dynamite of six to eight weeks, telling [retailers] not close down. We can no longer sit still if the government doesn't respond."