Marriott Alumni Magazine

Spring Summer 1977 Exchange

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Page 37 of 51

The record lows and snow-storms of this winter have made the energy crisis a cold reality for millions of Americans. It wasn't simply a matter of waiting in line at pumps to buy gasoline for sharply curtailed car trips; the crisis hit in schools and factories that depended on clean-burning, low-cost natural gas. When supplies ran low, the big users were forced to close down to assure a continuing supply to residential users who depend on gas for heating. Because half of U.S. industries use natural gas in their manufacturing processes, low supplies meant massive layoffs. As some natural gas users complained about price increases, builders in other areas discovered that many local gas utilities were turning away new customers. Chicago, for example, had a waiting list of 14,000 residential customers, 2,000 businesses, and 800 industries. Government and industry experts predict the crisis will become steadily more severe. The irony of the current gas shortage is that known and potential natural gas reserves are "abundant," according to the 1975 U.S. Geological Survey Report. These resources lie waiting to be discovered and delivered to the customer. The natural gas crisis could have been avoided. Suspicious customers blame the crisis on an industry plot, but it actually has its roots in a Supreme Court decision handed down in 1954. In a five-to-three decision the Court decided that the Federal Power Commission should take jurisdiction over natural gas rates. In a dissenting opinion Justice William O. Douglas stated, "Regulation of the business of producing natural gas involves considerations of which we know little and with which we are not competent to deal." The subsequent actions of the Commission form an incredible history of federal mismanagement, proving Justice Douglas to be correct. Today, even the head of the Power Commission admits the error of traditional regulation policies and is trying in vain to halt the crisis.

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