House Democratic energy conferences held a fourth inconclusive meeting yesterday to discuss the Senate's proposal to lift price controls from newly discovered natural gas after seven years.
At mid-afternoon, the House members invited Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) and Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) to join them to explain some parts of their proposal. Members said House and Senate conferees have not reached the point of trying to negotiate an agreement.
President Carter's omnibus energy bill has been bogged down in Congress for four months. Largely because of the stalemate on natural gas pricing.The House approved Carter's plan to continue price controls at a higher level than now and extend controls to the intrastate market. But the Senate went along with the industry in its 24-year fight and voted to end controls on new onshore gas in two years.
Because the Senate conferees were spilt down the middle on the issue, the conferees on the entire bill has been stalled waiting first for the Senate conferees and then the House-Senate conferees to reach an agreement on gas.
Last week, Jackson, who personally favors regulation, won approval of a bare majority of nine Senate conferees for gradual deregulation over seven years, with the president empowered to reimpose controls for two more years if prices rise too high.
House conferees haven't jumped at the Senate proposal, in part because they say they have needed time to understand its complex features, and in part because most of them prefer continuing price controls.
The administration estimates that consumers would pay gas producers $130 billion by 1985 under present law. It estimates that the House-Carter bill would reduce consumer payments by about $16 billion because price increases and elimination of the dual market would get rid of shortages which now cause consumers to pay far higher prices for other fuels or imported gas.
The staff of the House Commerce Committee, which handled the gas bill, estimates the Senate proposal would cost "at least $17.5 billion more than the House bill through 1985. This would be slightly above the existing level and about $3.3 billion more than the pre-Christmas compromise reached by House Democratic conferees with a small group of senators be rejected by the full Senate conference.
If House Democrats accepts or agree with changes to the Senate proposal, they then must reconvene the full conference - which has not met since before Christmas - to agree on a gas program and then try to pass it through both chambers. Then the conference must seek agreement on energy taxes, which may prove even tougher than gas.