It makes a difference to millions of homeowners and businesses who use natural gas whether Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, is a fighter or just a bully.
For the past few months, Stockman has had an easy time picking on disabled people, victims of auto accidents, poor people and undernourished families by slashing modest programs of help to these unfortunate Americans. But going after the American middle-class homeowner and small business requires a little more stamina.
You see, Stockman wants to lift all remaining price controls on natural gas immediately, not by 1985 as present law provides. Your natural gas bill will double very quickly, taking anywhere from $50 billion to $80 billion a year from consumers of that fuel. The average family using natural gas as a heating fuel could pay between $1,000 and $1,500 more a year, because, once unleashed, natural gas producers will make you pay the same BTU price for their energy as the OPEC-Exxon cartel charges you for oil.
Stockman and Reagan’s economic advisor, Murray Weidenbaum, want “gas decontrol,” as they call it, because they believe that the government should not place a price cap on any product. Although they do not admit to the persistent inflationary jolt that would occur under decontrol, other members of the Reagan administration are ‘worried enough to urge deferring sending Congress a bill that would let natural gas prices rise to world cartel levels.
Reagan is on record as favoring natural gas decontrol. If Stockman and Weidenbaum persuade him to move this year, as Exxon and other gas producers want, the Reagan administration will be in one massive fight with millions of Americans.
Ready to canvass door to door are dozens of consumer-labor coalition groups (national office is Citizen-Labor Energy Coalition, 600 W. Fullerton, Chicago, Ill., 60614) throughout the country. CLEC also is sponsoring workshops and educational sessions in dozens of areas from coast to coast. Many labor unions are cooperating because of their concern with inflation’s impact on their members and their worry that jobs will be lost as a result of a massive natural gas price rise.
CLEC’s effort is quite detailed. Reports will be issued on the cost of decontrol to selected cities, the effect of decontrol on tenants and which members of Congress receive how much campaign money from oil and gas lobbyists.
But unlike most consumer struggles, this one has allies from industry. The American Gas Association, which represents gas distributors, and some interstate pipeline companies also are opposed to decontrol. A sudden price shock, they argue, will decrease gas use, expand oil imports and otherwise distort what they say is a more orderly price rise under existing law.
It was only five years ago that the controversy was over the price of natural gas rising to 70 cents per 1,000 cubic feet. Now the controversy is whether newly produced gas, now more than $2.50 per 1,000 cubic, should be allowed to go to $5 or more. Those ranges give you an idea of how much more profit is being made, compared to the profit the gas producers were making half a decade ago.
The American Gas Association, which concedes that decontrol would double home heating bills, would rather stay with the existing law than risk a windfall profits tax on the huge profits that would follow any decontrol.
The adamantly anti-consumer senator, James McClure R-Idaho, wants to start hearings on decontrol but the White House has not yet given him the go signal. One reason for the Reaganites’ caution can be gleaned from Sen. Dale Bumpers D-Ark., who declared : “The filibuster that was conducted here on the National Gas Policy Act (1978) will be child’s play compared to the filibuster that will occur on the floor if the administration tries to decontrol the price of natural gas.”
Well, David Stockman, many consumer groups hope you’ll be a fighter for once and go for natural gas decontrol legislation so they can administer the Reagan administration a resounding defeat. Millions of American families are not going to let you take a month’s pay from them to enrich further the oil and gas companies.