From a statement by Janet Norwood, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the Joint Economic Committee May 2:

As anticipated, the change in energy prices dominated all first-quarter price developments. The index for fuels and related products dropped by about 30 percent, producing a record 6.1 percent decline in the overall import price index. This masked contrasting increases in non-energy imports. Prices for imports excluding fuels continued their uptrend, rising 3.4 percent -- even more than the 2.3 percent increase in the fourth quarter of last year. . . .

Recent energy price developments -- both in the domestic economy and in the foreign trade sector -- have been quite dramatic. We should put them in a longer-term perspective. From September 1973, immediately prior to the first oil embargo, through December of last year, the energy component of the consumer price index rose nearly 250 percent. Since December, consumer energy prices have fallen about 10 percent, so that by March, they were, on average, at about the same levels as five years ago, at the end of 1980.

Indeed, if we look at energy prices in relative terms -- that is, if we adjust them for the inflation that has taken place in the non-energy portions of the CPI -- they are now nearly down to their levels prior to the sharp run-up that began in 1979. Within the energy component, the decline in relative prices of energy commodities -- principally gasoline and fuel oil -- is even more dramatic. As of March, these prices had fallen to their lowest level since January 1974 and were only about 20 percent above their September 1973, pre-embargo level.