Back in the coldest days of 1980, natural gas users in Everett, Mass., came very close to losing their heat. The supply of Algerian liquefied natural gas had been cut off to the area for five weeks before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found out--one day before the local distributor planned to cut off supplies. And FERC discovered this little crisis only because a local supplier asked the agency for permission to increase synthetic gas deliveries to its customers.

Then about a year later a New York natural gas distributor discovered PCBs in its residential distribution system. Again FERC was in the dark, until a New York reporter called it for comments.

FERC has decided that somehow its reporting system isn't quite working and has proposed some revisions. The agency would like to add to the types of companies required to report emergencies and the type of incidents that would have to be reported. It would also require that emergency conditions be reported immediately by telephone. The proposal would dispense with the requirement that FERC get copies of reports made to the Transportation Department on this subject, because the DOT report has been of "little additional value." It would also drop the requirement that states be notified, leaving such a requirement up to the states.