Despite pledges to ease Northern Virginia gasoline lines, state energy officials have been allocating gasoline in a pattern that has favored Richmond and some rural areas over the populous Washington suburbs.
In May, when lines began forming in the area, Northern Virginians received 365,000 gallons of sea-aside fuel while the Richmond area, which has less population and experienced no lines, got 677,000 gallons - nearly twice as much - according to energy office figures.
In June, preliminary figures show Northern Virginia got considerably more gasoline - about 1.1 million gallons, or about a gallon for every resident. But tiny Patrick County, population 16,200 in Southwest Virginia received 129,000 gallons - nearly eight gallons per person. The Roanoke, Richmond and Newport News areas also got proportionally more fuel than Northern Virginia, although they suffered no long lines at the pumps.
Gov. John N. Dalton conceded at a press conference yesterday that Nothern Virginia deserved a larger share of the state's hardship supply and said he had ordered energy office director George Jones to allocate more gas to the area this month.
"We've got to look at where the real problem is and right now the real problem appears to be in Northern Virginia," said Dalton.
The figures undoubtedly will add support to arguments by local officials that Northern Virginia has been shortchanged by the state energy office in its allocation of hardship supplies.
"It's no surprise to me that we're not getting our fair share," said John Herrity (R), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which last Monday voted to consider filing suit against the federal government and the state for a larger share of gasoline.
Herrity said local officials would discuss the figures with Dalton next Wendesdy when they are scheduled to meet in Richmond.
State energy officials say the disproportionate channeling of emergency gasoline in the last two months is the result of an allocation system that takes into account individual hardships more than regional ones.
Under the system, Dalton last month ordered the energy office to hold 6.5 million gallons - 3 percent of the state's total June gasoline usage - in reserve for emergency allocation.
The fuel was allotted to individual gasoline station owners and others who met federal standards to qualify as hardships cases on a largely first-come-first served basis. State fuel allocation officer June Kopald said Richmond-area retailers, who knew where the energy office was located and were familiar with the allocation rules, were often first in line.
"They know where to find us," said Kopald. "It took people in Northern Virginia a lot longer."
In the case of Patrick County, energy officials said the county's administrator certified there was an area-wide shortage of fuel that could have result in factory shutdowns without emergency relief.
Officials says they have made every effort to respond quickly and favorably to hardship applications from Norther Virginia. They say they've approved more than 70 percent of this area's applications, compared to about 50 percent statewide.
For May and June, the two months in which the emergency program has been in full effect, the Richmond area, whose population totals 612,000 got a total of more than 1.4 million extra gallons. Northern Virginia, whose combined population is nearly 40 percent greater, got about the same amount of set-aside fuel.
Jones said the figures do not take into account other efforts by the state to redirect fuel to Norther Virginia. He said his office had managed to channel another 40,000 gallons directly from oil companies to local stations in the area.
State officials put the total amount of gas directed by the state to Northern Virginia over the last two months at nearly 2 million gallons. They said they hope to send even more then that to the area in July, since the governor has ordered the state's emergency reserve increased from 3 to 5 percent of total gasoline usage.
"Theres no question we've got to try to do more and better," said Jones. "But people have to remember that there may not be lines elsewhere in the state, but there are a lot of problems that are eligible to receive gas from the set-aside."
Jones added, "Even if I'd been able to give the entire 3 percent to Northern Virginia, there still would have been some lines."
State officials had a variety of explanations for Northern Virginia's gasoline lines.
Dalton at his press conference said the gasoline shortage prompted many area motorists to spend their weekends and holidays near their homes and had thus increased use of local service stations.
Dalton press aide Paul Edwards later said federal gasoline allocation rules, which are based on last year's consumption levels, don't take into account the rapid growth of the area. And state energy officials blamed an atmosphere of fear and panic that they said gripped Northern Virginia but not the rest of the state.
Dalton said he and Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman were considering filing a suit similar to Maryland's against the federal government in order to get more fuel for Virginia. But he said Coleman doubted there was sufficient evidence to support such a suit.
"If we think there is a legitimate reason to file the suit, we would certainly do it," said Dalton.