Members of the nation's business community yesterday endorsed the spirit of President Carter's two energy messages, but voiced both criticism and doubt on the specifics of Carter's programs.
Overall, the president received high marks from the business leaders for displaying a new forcefulness and determination in both his Sunday and Monday addresses. But predictably Carter, who was speaking on a subject that rubs many interested parties so many different ways, rubbed some the wrong way.
The prevailing attitude was cautiously supportive of the president's plan. Statements by business executives seemed to seesaw between agreement on general principles and disagreement on how the nation's goal of energy independence should actually be achieved.
"The tone of the speech was good, but I'm quite apprehensive about some of the things he has included," said O. C. Davis, chairman of Peoples Gas Co. of Chicago.
Oil industry officials applauded Carter's call Sunday night for U.S. energy self-sufficiency, then bristled yesterday under the president's attack on the industry. They complained, too, that neither speech promoted the sort of economic incentives that will be necessary to increase domestic production of oil.
Utility companies cheered Carter's cry for a switch away from oil toward coal and other energy forms, then worried that the president had given short shrift to the nuclear power at all on Sunday night, and yesterday said only that "nuclear power must play an important role in the United States" in the future.
Other corporate executives, while commending Carter for a burst of leadership, feared he may be leading the federal government too far into the energy fray.
Pointing to Carter's request for two new agencies to fund and promote America's long-term energy campaign, Hilton Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said: "Unfortunately, his thrust seems to be more government control rather than less. And that's no solution. That's the main part of the problem."
There was strong sentiment, particularly in the oil industry, that Carter was placing too much emphasis on developing risky long-term energy sources such as synthetic fuels and solar panels, and not enough emphasis on providing incentives for increased domestic production of oil and natural gas in the short term.
"He did not suggest decontrol of domestic crude oil and natural gas prices," said John E. Swearingen, chairman of Standard Oil Co. of Indiana. "He did not suggest decontrol of gasoline prices or elimination of the unwieldly allocation program. He did not offer to make available for exploration and development the vast areas of public lands that have been foreclosed to these activities, and he did not call for relaxation of overly strict environmental constraints."
Swearingen and other oil executives further objected to Carter's repeated call for a tax on windfall profits earned by oil companies because of oil decontrol. Carter has said these tax funds would be used to finance the development of alternative energy forms.
"In short," said Swearingen, "his program is simply more of the share-the-misery, share-the-shortage concept we have heard since 1977."
But the underlying theme of Carter's message - that America is suffering a "crisis of confidence" and must rally to solve the energy problem - by and large struck a responsive chord in the business community.
"The president has demanded action and this is indeed commendable," said General Electric Chairman Reginald Jones. "We have been lethargic long enough."
Irving Shapiro, chairman of Du Pont Co., said he was "encouraged" by Carter's speeches. "I think he's bitten the bullet," Shapiro remarked.
"The speech was worth waiting for," said A. Robert Abboud, chairman of the First National Bank of Chicago and one of the business leaders with whom Carter had consulted at Camp David.