Senate Finance Committee members yesterday continued to press the administration to drop its plan to rebate energy taxes and use money to speed development of alternate fuel sources.
Sen. Herman Talmadage (D-Ga.) told Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal that for $12.5 billion a year, the government could subsidize production of 7 million barrels of oil a day from shale, according to the senator's calculations.
This would end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and trade deficits caused by the cost of importing oil, Talmadge said.
The committee and been told by Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger on Monday that it costs $18 to $19 a barrel to extrat oil from rocky shale. Talmadge figures a $5-a-barrel subsidy would make shale oil competitive with crude oil, which has a world price of about $14.
"If spending $12.5 billion a year would do all those things, I'd be for it," said Blumenthal. The U.S. is spending $45 billion a year to import oil.
But Schlesinger also had said that the technology to produce shale oil commercially is not yet developed and that massive spending can't bring it into mass production by 1985, the date by which President Carter wants the United States to have cut oil consumption 4 1/2 million barrels from its present rate.
Blumenthal later amended his remarks to say research and development spending for new energy sources is adequate. "There are points beyond which spending more money won't get you much return," he added.
Sen. William V. Roth (R-Del.) said the administration's program of tax and rebate to conserve oil "confuses me. One minute you talk about sacrifice and then you put the money back into the economy so no one will get hurt. You can't have it both ways. You ought to throw out the rebate and do something with the money." Roth said.
Blumenthal said the economy couldn't stand having as large an amount of money sucked out of it as the $14.5 billion that the oil equalization tax will produce when this measure to increase the price of domestic oil up to world levels is fully effective in three years.
Futhermore, energy production programs shouldn't be financed "off the backs" of the people, the secretary said.
Committee chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) said recent legislation and government regulation have slowed production of energy rather than speeding it up. It takes four years from the time an offshore oil lease is sold until the producer can start drilling, said Long.
"We've worked on the theory that no one should make a big profit," said Long. "As a result, four years after the Arab boycott, with the government solving the problem, imports are up to 50 per cent (of consumption.) We ought to find out the cost of moving to energy sufficiency and then think about doing it."
The Senate Finance Committee plans to hold one week of hearings and one more week in September, and then to mark up the tax parts of Carter's energy package and get it to the Senate floor by the last week in September.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the electric utility industry estimated that provisions of the House version of the energy bill would cost the industry $63 billion and would cause increases in electric consumer bills on a level of those caused by the Arab boycott.
W. Donham Crawford, president of the Edison Electric Institute, told a news conference it would cost utilities $40 billion to convert boilers to oil by 1990 as required by the House bill. They must also pa $14 billion on the proposed use tax on oil and natural gas to push utilities to coal and $9 billion to install 75 million new meters to check customers' usage under proposed new rate structures.