Jimmy Carter photo

The Energy Shortage Remarks at a Meeting With the Cabinet.

January 29, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon, everybody. I'm sorry to have to interrupt your weekend, but I've been getting an increasing number of very serious reports about the impact of the energy shortage and the weather on the different States in our country.

We have 11 States that I believe are in some degree of crisis. Six of them are because of the recent blizzard--the weather, snow, extreme cold--and all of them, to some degree, with a severe energy shortage. We have between 8,000 and 8,500 factories that have been closed down already, and this has put out of work about a half million people. That's the best estimate we can get.

I've asked all the Governors in these 11 States already--by telephone and by telegram--to give me an immediate assessment of the degree of severity of the problem in their own State so we can accumulate information, see what uniformity of problems exist, and try to get regional approaches to the problem.

As you know, we've already introduced emergency legislation in the Congress. There might be some few amendments to that legislation necessary. For instance, we would like to shift to perhaps a 4-day workweek with 10 hours per day, but there are legal prohibitions against this now. We could save a great deal of fuel both in Government buildings and also in commercial buildings if we could just heat the buildings 4 days a week instead of 5 days a week. But so far, we are prevented from doing that without extraordinary extra cost. And I think there is a legal prohibition; we're investigating that now.

I would like very much to have as many of the commercial establishments as possible shift away from the use of natural gas and toward the use of either oil or coal, and to modify their own workweek arrangements so that they can minimize the use of natural gas.

I'm going to declare New York and Pennsylvania, under the Federal Disaster Relief Act, eligible for emergency assistance immediately because of the snow and ice and the extreme cold. I have got requests from other States for emergency declarations, and we are processing those now. But I believe this is important for us to do this immediately.

I'd like for all the Cabinet members to be quite innovative in assessing what your own Departments can do to help with these problems, even before you are asked. I've asked Jack Watson to coordinate the entire effort, so you can work through him.

As you know, the Federal energy agency under Mr. O'Leary, working under Dr. Schlesinger, is already working, also very closely with the different State energy agencies and State officials, and we are trying to allocate as best we can under Federal laws, dwindling supplies of fuel.

The Agriculture Department is very deeply involved in some of the States. Bob Bergland is going down to Florida-Monday, I believe, aren't you, Bob?--to assess their problem there. And in addition to that, there are personnel that you have on your payrolls that might be made available to Governors. For instance, forestry personnel and others who are already in the field can very well serve in times of searching the roads. I understand we've already found people who have frozen in automobiles that couldn't escape. Bob, being from northern Minnesota, is capable of assessing how best to handle people who are isolated by snowstorms.

The Labor Department--I would like to assess the impact of unemployment, to make sure that unemployment compensation is made available to those who don't ordinarily ever apply for unemployment compensation. This would help them a great deal.

The HEW Department, in all its many facets, can help with emergency medical supplies and the impact on the educational process, Joe [Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare], where we've had to shut down schools and also, obviously, with low-income Americans.

Joe Aragon, here, who is the new head of the community services agency, is assessing, along with some of your other departments, some way to get emergency financial relief to very poor families who've had to spend 200 or 300 extra dollars already for fuel supplies. And this will be a multidepartmental responsibility.

The Department of Transportation, obviously, has a wide range of responsibilities. I think the States can fairly well handle the highway system, Brock [Brockman Adams, Secretary of Transportation], but on the waterways there might be things that you can help with there. And the Coast Guard might give us some advice. We've got a number of barges in different places around the transportation system that have large supplies of fuel that are now having difficulty in discharging. You might try to assess the severity of that problem, and if the barges can reach alternative port landings, help them arrange rail transportation for shorter distances. I think one barge can carry as much as maybe five or six freight trains, and there might be some way that you could just assess the problem in working with the Governors.

Housing and Urban Development, of course, manages the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. And you might tell your people, Pat [Patricia Roberts Harris, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development], to expedite the processing of those emergency requests, and I will try to do the same thing here at my end.

I intend to sign the emergency request for Florida Monday, and signed one for Colorado yesterday. And we want to be sure that the administration of these funds is reasonable and also limited in time so that they don't extend beyond the actual need.

OMB will coordinate and track the multiagency efforts, working directly with Jack Watson. And they are the agency that in the past--like in the major disasters like Hurricane Agnes--who did do all the coordination work among the many departments involved. Bert [Thomas Bertram Lance, Director of the Office of Management and Budget] will take care of that.

The Commerce Department is a major avenue between us and the business community. And to the extent that we can encourage all the business leaders to cut down thermostats, to change workweeks, to shift to alternate kinds of fuel, they can work with the Federal Power Commission and others in assisting with that effort.

The Defense Department, Harold [Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense], with the Army and the Corps of Engineers, with coordination between reserve units and also the National Guard, can just offer your services to Governors. I know they've got their hands full now. And you might just take the initiative in having someone call each Governor and say, "What can we do to help you?" There are only 11 States involved, and it wouldn't take very long to do that.

Interior obviously has a great deal of resources available to it--the Fish and Wildlife Service, recreation personnel, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation personnel, national park systems. Cecil [Cecil Andrus, Secretary of the Interior], in isolated areas your people are very conversant with how to travel about, and they might make themselves available to Governors who never had this in the past.

I would like to form kind of an executive committee to work directly under Jack Watson and with Bert Lance. And that group would be Jack Watson, representing me, Dr. Schlesinger, concerning energy matters, the FDAA, working under Pat, OMB, Labor, and Commerce. And then the rest of you all can contribute to that group and also work directly with the Governors involved.

The last point is that I don't want anybody to be unduly alarmed. I'd like for the whole process to be done carefully, thoroughly, and methodically, and coordinate it through Jack Watson here in my office. We will try to stay available, and I will be maintaining personal contact with the Governors either through Jack Watson or myself. But I want them to know--and all the people in these States to know--that we are available to help them, that we're not waiting to be begged, that we're taking the initiative to meet them more than half way.

I've just outlined in very quick terms some of the things that are illustrative that we can do to help. But I'd like for all of you to take the initiative and call your parallel cabinet officer in the individual States--it would only require 11 phone calls--and say, "What can we do to help you?" And let's make sure that there is a minimum adverse effect on our people.

If anybody has any questions or suggestions that might help the whole group, I would be glad to have them now. And then, when I leave, I'd like to let Jim Schlesinger preside for a more thorough discussion. Do any of the Cabinet members have a question?


SECRETARY HARRIS. Mr. President, the policy development and research people at HUD are going to be releasing suggestions for ways in which citizens can cope with this problem, either Monday or Tuesday. So we're looking into this already.

THE PRESIDENT. I think, although we don't want to preempt anybody acting on your own, to the extent that we can coordinate public statements, it would help, instead of getting six or eight statements all during the day, it would be easier for you to put the statements together and just come over here to the White House, and, Pat, if you want to make a statement, just make it to the national press here. I think it might be better than having groups of reporters run to different places in Washington. Why don't you all, at least temporarily, utilize the briefing room here? And then the press will know that if you, Pat, have a statement to make, that you will come over here to make it. And I think just a half-hour notice would be enough for Jody to make the announcement.

Anybody else have anything? I'm going to leave and, Jim, if you would just kind of outline some of the things that you outlined to me and just have a brief conversation and then, if you need me, I will be available over in my office.

REPORTER. Mr. Schlesinger, can you tell us where this new gas has been located, and is it going to move or not?

MR. SCHLESINGER. The first question, I think, was the 11 States. And I should point out that the list of the States changes every day, depending upon weather conditions, supply availability. But the latest list that we have from the FPC [Federal Power Commission] are Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. The States that are suffering from the severity of weather are a belt, basically, from Illinois through New York State--Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York.

With respect to gas supplies, I think that there is an understanding in the industry about which pipelines have relatively abundant supplies. And assuming that we get the passage of the President's emergency natural gas bill, those supplies will be able to flow. There are also some supplies that could flow--are available today and could flow over intrastate lines if we had adequate legislative authority, and we' are looking into arrangements by which we can provide that legislative authority.

Note: The President spoke at 4: 45 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. White House correspondents and photographers were present during this portion of the Cabinet meeting.

Jimmy Carter, The Energy Shortage Remarks at a Meeting With the Cabinet. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242984

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