While urging motorists to conserve gasoline, Maryland energy officials in recent weeks helped scores of special interest users -- including pleasure boat marinas, car dealers, contractors, ice cream vendors and insurance salesmen -- obtain up to five times as much gasoline as they consumed last year, according to state records.
Among the businesses benefiting from this assistance were a Baltimore marina that supplies gasoline for 40 foot yachts, the builder of an 18-hole golf course on the Eastern Shore and a Seat Pleasant contractor who uses the fuel for his company vehicles, including a new Lincoln Continental and two new Cadillacs.
A chevrolet dealer in Southern Maryland who likes to assure his customers a full tank with every purchase was able to obtain twice the amount of gasoline he used last year. So was a Leonardtown home builder who said he needed more gasoline to drive to Washington to attend frequent trade association meetings.
Since gasoline supplies began tightening two months ago, these businesses and 135 others have been all but guaranteed a steady stream of the scarce fuel, thanks to a little-known and apparently unauthorized program run by the Maryland Energy Policy Office for commercial users with their own storage tanks.
In the program, energy officials lined up suppliers willing to fill the tanks of these businesses on a regular basis, thus sparing their employes from waiting in long gasoline lines. Working through a network of middlemen, the state arranged deliveries for almost every applicant, recommending or "assigning" in the energy jargon -- monthly allocations for each.
Federal energy officials are harshly critical of the program, saying it creates a privileged class among commercial interests whose gasoline consumption is supposed to be restricted in times of shortage to considerably less than -- not several times more than -- the amounts they received in the previous year.
Turning up the flow of gasoline for these special interest users, they point out, has one obvious effect. It turns down the flow for everyone else who buys at the service station pump. More than 2 million gallons of gasoline have been assigned to these commercial accounts in the last two months.
"It's not fair to the general public," said Bob Tomar, regional director of fuel allocations for the federal Department of Energy. "Why shouldn't the average guy also put a tank in his back yard and be assured of a supply for his occupation? What makes a construction company more important than a pickle salesman?"
Tomar said state officals have no authority to make gasoline assignments without his department's approval. Such assignments, he said, destroy the carefully tuned federal allocation system, which, in times of scarcity, provides a specific amount of gasoline for every class of consumer depending on his importance to the economy.
The program, critics contend, also produces a windfall for middlemen who gain dozens of new, state-assigned customers weekly. They get extra gasoline for these new accounts from their suppliers -- major oil companies -- or, if refused, turn to Maryland energy officals for part of the state's emergency supplies.
State officials reply that this system of assigning middlemen to supply businesses allows them to assist vital sectors of Maryland's economy without having to dip into the state's emergency stocks, a special though limited reserve controlled by the state for hardship cases.
"Any with a 'Co.' or an 'Inc.' at the end of his name, I'm very sympathetic to," said Martin I. Caplan, who runs the state program. "these are the guys who keep the economy going and the jobs going. If the [middleman] says he'll take 'em on, that's just fine with me. It doesn't come out of my pocket [emergency stocks]."
After fielding inquiries from The Washington Post last week, Caplan said he plans to discontinue making assignments. "I'm going to send all of these goddamn requests straight to Bob Tomar, courtesy of The Washington Post," he bellowed. "I don't need all this extra work. I'm tired of being a nice guy."
According to state records, Caplan has been especially nice to special interest users in the last two months, routinely approving their undocumented requests for monthly allocations and then sending from letters to middlemen recommending that they supply gasoline at the sought-after level.
The requests come from two sources: firms that satisfied their gasoline needs at service stations until lines started forming and then decided to seek a dependable supply; and firms that had been dealing with middlemen and wanted to increase the mount of gasoline they had been receiving under an old contract.
Almost all the applications were based on unverified estimates of last year's gasoline consumption, plus unsubstantiated projections of future needs. Firms seeking larger monthly allocations from middlemen often cited as their reason a general increase in business activity or additional gasoline-fueled vehicles.
Caplan confesses skepticism about many of the requests, but says he lacks the staff to investigate them. "Let's face it," he said, "all these guys are guessing. You know that as well as I. Nine of ten times I give 'em what they're asking for. If the jobber is willing to take 'em on, I'm satisfied."
As justification for their requests, many business applicants struck a common chord -- one that would elicit little sympathy from the average motorist. Time after time, the executives complained that the interminable gas lines are idling their workers and slowing down production at costs to the company.
For Caplan, those arguments were more compelling than the plaints of motorists needing gasoline for work because the large firms lose money when they lose time. "Insurance can be sold over the telephone," he explained. "But take a construction company. Try to sell a brick wall over the phone."
The construction industry grabbed the largest share of Caplan's assignments, picking up nearly half his rcommendations since mid-May. Most of the contractors -- builders, excavation firms, electricians and mechanical engineers -- asked for gasoline for their trucks, cranes and other equipment.
One Seat Pleasant contractor, P. W. Parker Inc., received an assignment of 80,700 gallons a year -- at least 15 percent more that the firm bought at pumps last year. In the application, an official said gasoline was needed to fuel the firm's large fleet of vehicles that travel extensively in a day's work.
The official then listed some of the vehicles acquired since 1977. After citing vans, an air compressor, a dump truck and backhoe, the inventory turned to other company vehicles: 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V, 1979 El Camino, 1979 Cadillac Eldorado, 1979 Cadillac Seville and 1978 El Camino.
Ruth Parker. the firm's secretary and treasure, said officers and employes drive the cars to supervise construction jobs, although they are allowed to take the autos home. "Surprisingly," she said, "my Cadillac gets good mileage. I have to drive all over town when I have a contract."
A Berlin firm named Golf By Janis was assigned 7,600 gallons a year, in part to build an 18-hole golf course, while Paragin Properties, a Leonardtown contractor, won approval to more than double its supply from a middleman after the firm's president listed several projects in the orks and then complained that the fuel crisis was keeping him from building association meetings he was supposed to attend in Washington.
Among the largest increases, Larry W. Simpkins & Sons, a Clinton painting contractor, was allowed to boost his middleman supply five times -- from 1,786 to 8,589 gallons a year. Salisbury builder Paul Elliott was assigned 14,800 gallons a year -- about five times the gasline he received in a 12-month period beginning at the end of 1977.
"Last year, construction was down," Caplan explained when asked to explain his admittedly lenient treatment of contractors. "This year it's booming. Their needs are greater this year."
While accomodating the weekday work needs of Maryland's bussiness community, Caplan also helped preserve the weekend passion of some of the state's wealthiest residents -- pleasure boating.
Three marinas qualified for his help, including Baltimore's Hanover Bridge Marina, where some politicans and many of that city's richest black families gas up their yachts, cabin cruisers and sailboats. The marina, which also provides fuel for dozens of large craft in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, was assigned 24,000 gallons to cover the summer months.
Caplan also took care of land craft lovers, handing out assignment to five car dealer. Bill Ritter, owner of a Chevrolet dealership in Mechanicsville, said that customers ho buy his biggest models insist that their new purchase come with a full tank. His assignment was for 28,000 gallons a year, almost twice as much as his outfit received from the end of 1977 to late 1978.
An assignment of 46,000 gallons a year was made to Dream Maid Ice Cream, a Hyattsville firm that leases blue and white ice cream vans to street vendors in Prince George's County and the District of Columbia. Last week the company was reselling the gasoline to vendors at prices slightly below the service stations.
Chamberlain Insurance Co., a Princess Anne company with three fulltime employes, received an assignment for 8,850 gallons a year -- more than tice as much gasoline as the company received from middlemen in the past. The firm's president said his salemen bought much of their gasoline at the pump before the shortage.