Jimmy Carter photo

The Energy Shortage Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Westinghouse Plant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

January 30, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. I think the reason for my being here is exactly your reason for being here--to keep this Westinghouse Plant open, productive, with an assurance of future capacity to meet our Nation's needs in a very crucial industry, and to give the people of our country some feeling of assurance that the Federal Government mechanism, working with State and local governments, private industry, can deal with an energy shortage brought about in a crisis stage by very unusual weather--which might be more usual in the future--but to emphasize as strongly as I can that this now temporary circumstance is going to be permanent.


Our country--in spite of fine efforts like in this plant, where the lighting load has been cut down 40 percent and where energy conservation measures have been instituted--our country still wastes more energy that could be saved than the total amount we import.

We now have in Pennsylvania alone, about 400,000 people unemployed before the energy crisis came. Because of the heavy snows and extremely cold weather, we've got, already, an additional 90,000 people out of work. And Governor Shapp has just completed an analysis--and we've confirmed the accuracy of it-showing that there are 325,000 more people who are still on their jobs in plants that depend on heavy supplies of natural gas and other scarce energy materials, and their jobs are all in danger.

Now, we have introduced emergency legislation in the Congress. I hope that legislation will pass either Monday or Tuesday. We have got several Members of Congress here with me this morning, and they have pledged their support for this legislation. But emergency legislation passed in the midst of a crisis is not what our Nation needs. We are the only developed country in the world that doesn't have a comprehensive, long-range energy policy that's predictable and well conceived that all of us can depend upon.

Dr. James Schlesinger works directly with me in the White House as an Assistant to the President. He is responsible for the evolution, before April 20, of a comprehensive energy policy. We should have had it years ago, and we will have it this spring.

But in the meantime, the American people have got to realize that we've got a serious problem on our hands.

We flew here from Washington so I could see the countryside, to observe the status of the rivers. I think the Monongahela River here is the heaviest traveled river in the world. More cargo, more supplies, more products of factories are transported on this river than any other river in the whole world. And as we came across the bridge a few minutes ago, I could see dozens of crucially needed barges tied up in the river, empty because they can't be transported back down to be refilled because of the heavy ice conditions.

It is important that people who are in their homes know that they ought to cut down their thermostats drastically. I have asked nationwide for not more than 65 degrees, much lower at night. In your own State the request is 62 degrees. There are many homes that have open fireplaces that could even turn down their thermostats to 50 degrees or turn off the heat.

We need to do it, because every iota of energy saved, particularly in the crucial elements like natural gas and, in some areas, heating oil, can be used to keep people on their jobs.

There will be suburban areas in our country within this next week that will probably completely lose all supplies of natural gas. Plans must be made for those people who live in homes that will have no heat to be transported to neighbors' homes and to be housed in school buildings.

If we can get everyone in this country to realize the seriousness of our problem and cut down drastically on heat consumption, we can keep tens of thousands of Americans employed.

Now, I have got on heavy underwear, and the White House is cold inside. [Laughter] My wife--when I told her that we were going to lower the thermostat drastically in the White House--she shed a few tears, because she is really cold natured. She had just gotten through with the Inauguration ceremonies and a 2-year campaign, and we had had receptions in the White House to meet thousands of people, and she was tired. She said, "I just can't do it." But we have gotten accustomed to it. I hope that all the people in this country will realize that we are in it together. It is really important.

I am going to pursue aggressively a close, cooperative relationship between myself and the Governors, mayors, county officials, the Congress, industrial representatives, and private citizens who are not employed but who control their thermostats in homes. We have just got to work together.

The reason for my coming to Pittsburgh instead of going to other places is, perhaps, of interest to you.

In the first place, I wanted to see at first hand the present impact on an area that has a heavy concentration of employment, that produces goods that our Nation has to have to use in this country and to export.

Secondly, I wanted to see a plant--like your own here, Westinghouse, where these massive generators are constructed--that has done a good job already on energy conservation. By using sodium vapor lamps, you can cut down on the waste of electricity. You have already done that, and I appreciate it.

Third, this is a plant that is fed by dozens of other plants for your component parts. If any one of them is shut down, perhaps in California or Georgia or Texas or Ohio, and you are deprived of a crucial part, it might very well cause your own plant to close down even though the other 99 percent of your component parts are available. So, the nationwide effect of this particular plant is illustrative, too.

This is a large plant, employing about 9,000 people. You had to close down Friday at noon. I understand in this area there is only enough fuel to last 2 more weeks. And if you have to shut down completely, it would be a devastating blow to our country.

These extremely large generating component machines, that are almost as large as a house, will supply electricity for other parts of the Nation. One that is being built here now is the largest one, or at least as large as any, in the world, 1500 megawatts. It's going to the State of Washington. And I know that all over the country, the future supply of energy is dependent upon you.

You have done a good job in this area already in trying to save energy. Every school in Pennsylvania has been closed. As I flew over, I noticed the churches this morning have been closed down. And you have already reacted to a very unprecedented need. But we are all in it together.

I don't claim to know all the answers. I am going to do the best I can. But I think to the extent that we can let the American people know that this is the first major indication of a permanent energy shortage and that all of us have to do our part, perhaps it is a good forewarning that might keep us from having very severe national catastrophes in the future.

We appreciate very much your letting us come in. I've had a chance to fly in my helicopter up and down this heavily industrialized region to see the impact already of the heavy snow and extreme cold. And I want everyone in the country to know that we are doing the best we can.

I, perhaps, would be well served now to answer some questions that you might have. I don't know all the answers, but I think your questions themselves might help me to learn. And I will be going back this afternoon to the White House. Between now and tomorrow morning when the Congress convenes, I will be meeting with a few key Congress Members to discuss amendments to the emergency legislation derived from my experience today.

And if you have any questions now-first of all, the people here at the Westinghouse Plant--I will answer them, and then I can take a few questions from the news media before we have to leave.

Does anyone have a comment or question or suggestion?



Q. Is there for sure a natural gas shortage?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I don't think there is any doubt that there is a natural gas shortage in this area. The emergency legislation that will be passed this week, I believe, helps to correct a problem that is now guaranteed by the restrictions on our natural gas distribution system.

We are asking for authority for myself, working through the Federal Government, to transfer natural gas from pipelines that have an excessive amount into a natural gas line where there actually is a shortage. That is prohibited now by law, but in the case of emergency we want to be able to do that. So, if in the southern part of the country or, perhaps, in parts of the West, where there .are very moderate temperatures and the natural gas supplies are adequate, we will want to be sure, without violating antitrust laws, that we can get the gas companies to cooperate and move gas from one area to another in order to meet shortages.

So, nationwide, if we could distribute the gas that we have exactly where it is needed, we would probably have enough at this point. The supplies, the reserves are dwindling very rapidly. But in order to meet isolated areas which comprise 11 States at this point, where there is a very serious shortage, we need to transfer gas .around the country, which we cannot do at this point.


Q. We, as union members, would like to have the gas companies investigated because of the shortage they claim that they do have. The people in this area-many aged and pensioners--they can't afford to pay the price we are paying on gas bills now. And it is unfortunate, and they say "no gas." We request that you investigate that and see if that is a fact.

THE PRESIDENT. We will do that. In the process of developing a comprehensive energy policy that will be completed, as I said, with the target date of 90 days after I went into office, we will investigate the .accuracy of reports on the reserve supplies of oil, coal, uranium, natural gas. And we will also make sure that there is not any possibility for energy companies to get a windfall profit in dealing with shortages, whether they actually exist or not.

But I believe that a thorough discussion of the energy problem by all people who are involved--consumers, both private homes and commercial consumers on the one hand and suppliers on the other-will help us to understand and detect where there has been cheating, where there have been misleading statements made, where incorrect reports have been made, and to expose those and prevent them in the future.

In many instances, the distribution companies at the local level have no control whatsoever over their supplies. And to understand the extremely complicated energy system in all its forms is something that's going to take a great deal of detailed work.

I chose the best qualified person that I know of in the Nation to head up this energy effort, Dr. James Schlesinger. He has recently been the Secretary of Defense. Before that he was head of the Atomic Energy Commission. He has been the Director of the CIA. He has been the Director of the Budget Bureau, and he is a brilliant, very tough, competent man. And if anybody can bring order out of chaos .and give us a clear understanding of what we ought to do to conserve energy, first of all, and then to distribute what we have to use in an effective and fair way, Dr. Schlesinger can.

And I deliberately wanted him in the White House, very close to me on a daily basis so that I could add the strength of the President himself to the brilliance and capability of Dr. Schlesinger and his people, to work with the rest of the Nation in evolving a good policy.

But I believe we are now moving, for the first time, to correct some of the very basic defects that we have in our country.

Q. I would like to ask that you protect these people on fixed incomes so these gas companies don't shut them off. You know, they are really hurting.

THE PRESIDENT. The question is about people on fixed and very low incomes. In the 11-State area that I have described to you, we estimate that the average family is having to spend $200 or $300 more on fuel costs, even with the lower temperature settings.

And as you know, for a person that makes $15,000, $20,000, $25,000 a year, they can accommodate a $200 or $300 extra expenditure without cutting back on the basic necessities of life. But someone who has a very low income or a fixed income like social security and nothing else, to add $300 extra expenditures on their bills, means that they are going to have to do without medical care or do without clothing or do without food.

We have already begun to work through the Community Services Agency, through the Labor Department, through Health, Education, and Welfare, to try to allot an additional financial aid to those very low-income families. And only Friday night, I was talking to Senator Muskie and Senator Kennedy who had done a survey of the northeastern part of our country to bring this problem to my attention. But that will be one of the responsibilities that I will assume, and it will be done very quickly.


Q. Mr. President, there are a group of us employed at the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, which is located about 2 miles up the road, and we are facing the same problems as Westinghouse Electric Company.

We have been informed by management that if this cold extends until Monday, that the complete foundry will be shut down. That will mean 800 jobs, and then that will have a spillover effect that will affect the whole Westinghouse Air Brake Company.

We have over 4,000 people employed there. We have another concern, Mr. President. In addition to facing layoffs, we are also faced with skyrocketing gas bills. Our members are paying $85 and $95 a month for gas bills. You know, faced with layoffs and these tremendous gas bills, that is quite a concern.

THE PRESIDENT. The question was raised about the shutdown of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, and it would be typical, even of this one here, if we don't have an alleviation of the shortages. Now there is no way that the President of the United States or the Federal Power Commission or a Governor can direct the closing down of particular plants that are not crucial and have very low employment and all, and where production can be delayed in allotting scarce energy materials on a priority basis.

If you remember back in 1973--1 was the Governor of Georgia then, and I and the other 49 Governors were given the authority to allot 3 percent of the total diesel oil, kerosene, and gasoline to make sure that we could serve people who were particularly in need from a less high priority source.

We need that same authority to allot all kinds of fuel. We have plants that use natural gas as a raw material, whose products are primarily used in the summertime. It might very well be that we could close down those plants on a 2-week basis or a month basis, even, and allot that fuel to companies that have to have it to stay open on a continuing production basis.

But that authority does not exist now, and I wouldn't want to disrupt the normal free enterprise system of allotting fuel and have the Government take over the whole responsibility. But to allot maybe 3 percent or 5 percent of the fuel in the country would probably be enough to keep the air brake company from closing down or the generation company from closing down if we just had that much flexibility.

That is one of the things that we will be considering on the emergency legislation as an amendment. Now, I don't want to put on very many amendments on that legislation, because the more amendments you put on, the more delay there is in haying the bill passed. So, whatever amendments are proposed will be decided on today, they will be introduced in committee tomorrow, and then we will go with the bill as it is. We will come back with comprehensive legislation proposals, as I said, hopefully with a deadline date of April 20. I might say one other thing before I take a question from the news media, and that is this: I had a Cabinet meeting yesterday and brought in all the leaders of the Federal Government executive agencies.

There are some problems that we face in the future, brought about by this extreme cold, that the average citizen, including myself, would not think about under normal circumstances.

I am going to direct, for instance, the Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department both to assess for me the prospects of additional flooding that we can anticipate when the ice breaks up and the snow starts to melt.

We already have many rivers in this country that have floods under a normal spring thaw condition. But with massive blocks of ice, some of them 24 inches thick, which we haven't had before, blocking the normal exit of water over the rivers and, also, combined with the excessive snowfall that gives us more runoff when the snow starts to melt, we might be faced with extraordinary flooding conditions this year. And I want to be sure that we are prepared for it. We can't prevent all the floods, but at least the Corps of Engineers and other Federal agencies can give me a report on where we might expect those floods, let the mayors and the county officials, the Governors, know about it so we might have to prepare for evacuation under those conditions.

But there are literally dozens of questions like that that face me now, and we are trying to do it in a very careful, very methodical, very orderly fashion, so that we won't be caught by surprise when additional crises evolve in the future.


Q. Mr. President, some Members of Congress were saying on Friday they want to add to your emergency legislation a deregulation of natural gas provision, unless you can give assurances that in the longer range energy package you would propose such a deregulation. Can you give those assurances?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, my intention has always been, as expressed many times during my own political campaign, that natural gas should be deregulated for a limited period of time on a test basis--I would say for a 4-year period of time-leaving existing contracts in effect for the price of gasoline and the delivery quantity over the period of the contract.

Some of those contracts exist even beyond the year 2000, but I think that it is time for us to deregulate natural gas with those basic constraints on the deregulation. But that would have to come as part of an overall comprehensive energy policy. And designed in that would have to be some prohibition against excessive or windfall profits from energy companies at the expense of the consumer.


Q. What are you doing about foreign competition? [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. I understand that. The point was about foreign competition, and this is a matter that, of course, is with me constantly. I think you've all noticed that one of the first things that I did on becoming President was to send Vice President Mondale on a trip around the world to meet with our friends and allies, who also happen to be the countries that quite often are intentionally in competition with us on crucial products.

Now, I don't know what percentage of your own production is exported, but I would guess a percentage on a community-wide basis around the Pittsburgh area would be very, very high. We had last year almost a $6 billion trade deficit under the previous administration, which is not good for us. In other words, we imported $6 billion more products than we sold, and I hope to do something about that this year.

There are a few very crucial items that have been highly publicized in the past, like shoes and specialty steels and color televisions. And as Vice President Mondale has talked to Chancellor Schmidt, in Germany, and today and tomorrow with the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Fukuda--he is talking to them about the possibility of import constraints.

I hate to impose tariffs, and I hate to do anything that would cause the overall increase in the cost of consumer products. There are times when we have to continue imports to let our consumers have a break on a nationwide basis and provide for some emergency help for workers that are laid off. But this is a very complicated subject, and I am completely aware of it. I spent 2 years going in and out of factories and plants and talking to people--and listening to people, mostly-during the campaign, and the handling of import competition is something that is ever present on my mind.


Q. Mr. President, are you seriously contemplating or suggesting any change in the private industry workweek and hours and in the Federal Government, as well?

THE PRESIDENT. I would like very much for private industrial leaders, on an individual plant basis, and mayors and Governors on a community or State basis, to consider the shifting to a 4-day workweek with 10 hours per day instead of a 5-day workweek with 8 hours per day.

Now, there are plants that have a continual production line, that shutting down and starting a plant up would be very, very wasteful. But in general, on piece-type work, on assembly plants only, where the chemical processes are minimized, this 4 days .of heating a plant, even 2 hours longer per day, is much more efficient on energy consumption than is the 5-day week with 8 hours per day. But that is something that I cannot do now with the Federal Government because of a legal prohibition. But that is the kind of thing that ought to be available to us as an option in the future.

But short of changing the law which would give me that authority for Federal installations, I would like to urge, when appropriate, private businesses to consider going to a 4-day workweek, 10 hours per day, and that would also apply to State and local governments when there is no legal prohibition against it.


Q. Mr. President--[inaudible].

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, there have been some decisions already made by the Environmental Protection Agency that on a temporary basis only, coal can be burned at the present time. This has been authorized, for instance, in Ohio already. As part of a comprehensive energy policy, we will move very strongly in research and development to learn how to burn coal again without violating our air quality standards. And I would shift a very heavy emphasis on research to learn how we can do that.

In some States where natural gas is very plentiful, like, for instance, in Texas, they have already begun to shift to other sources of fuel for stationary power production like electric power plants. They still use natural gas. They are shifting to lignite and coal, and, in some instances, fuel oil. We have got to start shifting our stationary heat production centers, like electric power production plants that drive these generators in the background that use more plentiful supplies of fuel, the most notable of which is coal.

Maybe one more question and then I will need to go back.

Q. We would like to have the president of the AFL-CIO say goodby when you leave.

THE PRESIDENT. Fine. Yes, sir?


Q. Will you be going to other areas? There is some belief that some suburban neighborhoods, they say, will probably run out of gas this week.

THE PRESIDENT. That is the projection now, yes. We have been informed by local gas-distributing companies that suburban areas, perhaps even here in the Pittsburgh region, will be deprived completely of natural gas later on this week unless we have an alleviation of the weather. And if that should occur, we will try to let the local officials know a day or so ahead of time, so that those families might be encouraged to share homes with friends in other areas of the community and also provide emergency housing in National Guard armories and school buildings for families that have to leave their own homes.

I would like to repeat my urging of American families all over the country, even in areas that are not afflicted with excessive snow and so forth, in order to keep people at work in this country, to cut their thermostats down as much as possible, even as low as 50 degrees, particularly in homes where there are open fireplaces that can be used.

And I would also like to urge people to wear heavier clothes in their homes, including heavy underwear and sweaters, as a normal course of events. I found that this is a very effective way to deal with very low temperatures. We could meet half of the shortage of natural gas today if every home in our country would cooperate in this fuel saving effort just by reducing thermostats and not wasting electricity and other forms of heat.

It is crucial that everybody realize the importance of this effort. A little bit in individual homes doesn't seem very important, but the cumulative impact of every home doing this in the country and every person cooperating is very, very significant.

Thank you very much. I have enjoyed being with you. Thank you for letting me interrupt your work.

Note: The President spoke at 10:05 a.m.

Jimmy Carter, The Energy Shortage Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Westinghouse Plant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243101

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