President Carter, calling on Americans to fight the oil cartel with sweat, will issue an order this week to limit air conditioning in almost all nonresidential buildings.
Some won't like it hot.
The rules will prohibit millions of buildings -- from factories and offices to dining spots and discos -- from cooling to below 78 degrees. Building owners or managers who fail to comply will be liable for fines of up to $10,000 per day.
The controls will apply to all government and private buildings except homes, apartments, hospitals, some museums, some food warehouses, and a few miscellaneous spots that have a proven need to be exempted.
Energy Department officials finished drafting the rules yesterday afternoon and will present them to President Carter today. He is expected to issue his formal order today or tomorrow and the rules could go into effect as early as Thursday. They will last at least nine months, at which point the Energy Department will report on their effectiveness to the president.
Besides air conditioning, the rules will establish controls for winter, when the maximum permissible thermostat setting will be 65 degrees. Hot water temperatures year-round will be limited -- except for applications like dishwashing, where health rules dictate higher levels -- to 105 degrees. In the average home, by comparision, the hottest water from the spigot is about 140 degrees.
The Energy Department estimates the control will save about 400,000 barrels of oil a day in the winter and from 195,000 to 400,000 in the summertime. That would reduce total U.S. oil consumption by about 2 percent but it would mark a cut of about 10 percent in the amount of oil used for heating and cooling.
However, the savings will depend on compliance with the regulations. And no one can say if a hot and sweaty nation will be willing to give up its accustomed indoor comfort during the dog days of summer.
Until the early 1950s, there was almost no air conditioning in public buildings and Americans managed to survive summer with nothing more than fans and iced tea.
Today, though -- judging from the angry complaints that have poured in since the government issued preliminary temperature control rules last month -- a lot of people think a limit on air conditioning is a catastrophe.
Among them are several federal judges who have declared they will keep their courtroom thermostats at 74 degrees, administration rule or no rule. Judges at the U.S. Courthouse here, while not threatening defiance, have asked for an exemption, saying they cannot operate their courts without air conditioning.
The strongest reaction came from the owners of stores, restaurants, night clubs and theaters, who said people would stay home -- where air conditioning will be permitted -- rather than go out to shop, eat, or be entertained in hot, muggy surroundings.
It was mainly to assuage those complaints that the Energy Department decided to lower the permitted temperature from the 80 degrees originally proposed to 78.
Henry Bartholomew, of the department's conservation office, said the change was made partly for health reasons and partly because "there's clearly a psychological barrier when you hit 80. Even 79 degrees sounds a lot cooler than that."
Under normal conditions, according to the Energy Department, summertime temperatures in air-conditioned buildings range from about 68 to 75 degrees. The Energy Department and some other federal agencies have been operating on a 80-degree standard for about a month.
Bartholomew said the higher temperature is particularly noticeable when humidity is low but on muggy days the discomfort is definitely noticeable.
The psychology of the process is important, Bartholomew said, because the program is new and the government will have to rely largely on voluntary compliance.
Washington will distribute $7 million to state and local governments for enforcement of the rules. For the most part, the job will be done by local health, safety and fire inspectors who will check temperature in the buildings they visit on their regular rounds.
In addition, the Department of Energy is relying on a sort of nation-wide vigilante operation to finger culprits whose buildings are too cool. The department will require every building to post a compliance certificate in its front window, indicating who is to be notified in case of a violation. "Then if somebody walks in and thinks the place is too cool," said Deputy Energy Secretary John F. O'Leary, "he can call the inspector and report it."
Except for a general feeling that they're not happy, owners of big public buildings seem bewildered about how the new rules will affect them.
"How it is going to work, we just don't know," said Peter Slater, manager of the 1,165-room Washington Hilton Hotel. "When we get 3,000, maybe 5,000 people in a meeting room, they will smoke, they will dance, they will sweat, and the temperature will go up. And now you have the rule that means you cut the air conditioning."
Another big question is how to apply the rules where they were authorized: the U.S. Capitol. So far, Congress has taken no steps to cut back air conditioning that makes the Capitol and the members' offices comfortable on the hottest summer days.
Last Thursday, when the House was debating a major energy bill, the air conditioning was so high that Rep. Millicent Fenwich [R-N.J.] had to leave the floor to get a woolen shawl that she normally wears in the winter months.