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The White House is considering asking Congress to enact a series of taxes that would include a heavy levy on gasoline, an excess use fee on electricity and natural gas consumed in homes, offices and factories, and an impost on auto engine horsepower that would wallop the big cars hardest. In addition, the Administration is considering putting in a national blue law to curtail business hours in stores and other businesses, and closing national parks to private cars.
Altogether, 21 Democratic Senators called on the Administration to begin gas rationing. That course runs directly counter to the position of Treasury Secretary George Shultz and other Administration free market apostles, who would prefer to curb gasoline consumption by hiking the price at the pump through taxes (see story page 38). Some Administration officials cling to the faint hope that the gasoline crisis can be managed without rationing or a 400-per-gal. added tax, but that will depend on how well the public responds to less severe restraints.
Nixon's requests put great pressure on the House to pass the Energy Emergency Bill and allow him to make his entire program mandatory.
The bill would grant the President extensive powers to restrain energy consumption, including the authority to order outdoor advertising lights doused and set temperature standards for office buildings. Most important, it would give Nixon authority he does not have now to ration all forms of fuel bought by consumers. The bill faces tough sledding early this week when it reaches the House Commerce Committee, which is none too keen to invest the presidency with any more Executive clout than is necessary. Chairman Harley Staggers will seek to limit the authority that the Senate would give the President by making rationing orders subject to judicial review. Moreover, Staggers wants Congress to retain the right to overrule any presidential conservation order. Says a committee staffer: "There is a little fear here that we may be legislating an energy Tonkin Gulf resolution."
For good or ill, many state and local authorities are hastening to prepare for the difficult period ahead. In fuel-famished New England, electric-power companies disclosed that they will have to reduce voltage by 5% between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. If this does not suffice, blackouts would be put into effect in specific areas on a rotating basis. Despite forewarning, there will be an increased risk of crime and accidents. As in several other states, California's State Energy Planning Council is considering a relaxation of state sulfur-emission controls to allow plants to burn high-polluting fuel.
That would thicken the smog in Southern California, already one of the most polluted areas in the nation. The commission has also recommended the reopening of the Santa Barbara Channel to oil drilling; a moratorium was clamped on drilling after the disastrous 1969 leak from a well in the channel badly despoiled beaches. Maine's Governor Kenneth Curtis has ordered all state departments to stop work at 4 p.m., and Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers took to the television pulpit to warn all residents that they must either exercise restraint or "the lights are going to go out it is as simple as that."