BUENOS AIRES, July 11 (Reuters) - The center-right government of Argentine President Mauricio Macri will put a new cap on increases to natural gas prices, it said on Monday, even as it pledged to appeal a court ruling that recently halted the hikes.
Macri had cut generous energy subsidies and raised utility rates in January shortly taking office, saying fees frozen during previous governments had swollen the fiscal deficit and left the grid on the brink of collapse.
But public outrage and legal challenges after gas bills jumped by more than 1,000 percent in some places have led the government to water down its plans.
A forthcoming resolution will cap the rise in natural gas bills at 400 percent for consumers and 500 percent for businesses, said cabinet chief Marcos Pena. Anyone who had paid fees exceeding that from April 1 would get credits for future consumption.
“We made this decision after talking and listening to opposition leaders,” Pena said in a press conference.
A previous cap, announced in June, had been based on the amount of gas consumed and not the final bill for consumers.
But an Argentine court ruled last week that the gas price rises across the country were invalid, suspending Macri’s bid to trim the fiscal deficit through higher utility tariffs.
Pena said that the government would appeal the ruling and had asked members of the Supreme Court to help clarify the dispute.
“The government has taken note of the situation with the tariffs, which are being fixed, and the legal problems will be dealt with going forward,” said Justice Minister German Garavano.
The policy shift comes after Macri urged Argentines to strive to conserve energy as the country weans itself off years of cheap natural gas.
“Let’s be responsible and consume as little energy as possible,” Macri said at a separate event Monday.
Argentina’s biggest distributors of natural gas are , Edesur and Edelap. (Writing by Mitra Taj in Buenos Aires; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson)