The Carter administration yesterday announced new gasoline conservation goals, but local officials said the targets are already being met by motorists in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland.
For the country as a whole, the limits also appear more symbolic than binding, because the voluntary targets were set about where gasoline consumption appears headed anyway.
Officials here said motorists are already using 7 to 9 percent less gasoline than they were a year ago, while the new federal goals call for Virginia and Maryland to use 6.6 percent less gasoline and the District, 9.6 per-cent less.
"The more I look at these figures the more I get confused," D.C. energy chief Chuck Clinton said of the federal formulas. "I see (DOE) targeting us to use more gasoline [than we are]."
"If it's a 7 percent reduction, that's been the state plan all along," said Maryland energy chief Donald E. Milsten. "People are (already) conserving."
"We can handle that," said Virginia fuel allocation officer William Kirkland of the 6.6 percent conservation target for Virginia. Kirkland said the state is getting along now with 8 or 9 percent less gasoline than it had a year ago and "we're living with it. I think the people have adjusted."
U.S Department of Energy spokeswoman Maria T. Oharenko said it is possible that some states could already be exceeding their targeted conservation goals.
This could happen because of particularly strong conservation efforts in some areas or weather conditions or it could simply appear to be the case because of inaccurate data, Oharenko said.
The gasoline conservation goals were announced on a state-by-state basis by the department yesterday. They are a key part of the Carter Administration's effort to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
The targets are only "interim," the DOE spokeswoman emphasized. "They can be changed if there's some dispute. We intend to meet and work with (state officials) and to adjust the data."
Officials in the District, Virginia and Maryland were generally confused and skeptical about the announced targets.
Clinton, the D.C. energy chief, attacked the 9.6 percent conservation target for the District, noting that it is higher than the 6.6 percent targets for Virginia and Maryland. Those two states' targets appear more in line with the federal goal of a 7 percent reduction in gas consumption nationwide for the first quarter of 1980, compared with the same period this year.
"We just hope our record of good conservation in the District is not being rewarded by even further burdens compared to other jurisdictions," Clinton said.
The DOE spokesman said that the District is one of 12 jurisdictions that have been told to conserve 10 percent or more than they did last year.
The highest is Kansas with a 15 percent goal.
Virginia Gov. John Dalton issued a statement yesterday, saying his state will cooperate with DOE's goals but that the federal government "has mistakenly overemphasized conservation."
Dalton said more should be done to encourage coal conversion and full utilization of existing nuclear power plants. He also challenged the system of federal price controls on gasoline.
"It is illogical to encourage conservation through a complex system of guidelines, allocations and standby rationing plans while encouraging consumption through price controls," the governor's statement said.
Milsten, the Maryland energy chief, said high gasoline prices have been a key factor in cutting consumption. "We're going to keep stressing conservation here as a very positive thing," he said.