Gas deregulation debate and grizzlies have a connection - barely

The grizzly bear and natural gas regulations seem worlds apart. The grizzly is the American archetype of natural power, majesty, and freedom. Gas regulation is the quintessential product of the bureaucratic world.

Yet, as the environmental maxim goes, everything is related to everything else. So perhaps it should not be too surprising that these federal energy regulations should have an impact on the solitary grizzly roaming the mountains, as well as human billpayers writing checks to their local gas utilities.

That, at least, is the contention of the Great Bear Foundation, an organization devoted to protecting the world's shrinking bear population. In their latest newsletter the group came out in favor of natural gas deregulation. They argue that this would reduce human intrusions in the grizzly's habitat, the rugged and remote regions in the northern Rocky Mountains.

The bear-backers' logic is as follows. In a move toward energy independence, the federal government has deregulated so-called ''new gas'' while keeping price controls on gas being pumped from existing wells. Because companies can charge premium prices for newly discovered and developed wells, they have been tramping all over the grizzly's last bastion in the continental US, exploring for gas. Deregulation, the foundation figures, would reduce exploration-team incursions into grizzly territory because an unconstrained market would favor gas development in more easily accessible areas.

This argument may not have much effect on Capitol Hill. There, a spirited debate over natural gas deregulation has been smoldering for several years. Such a measure is fiercely opposed by those who say it will mean far higher natural gas prices for many consumers. It is championed by free-marketers, including the Reagan administration, who claim that prices will not rise astronomically and consumers will be better off in the long run.

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