After weeks of furious debate, a Reagan administration study group has prepared a cautious report on a proposal to export Alaskan crude oil that stops short of recommending oil exports but says they would be consistent with the administration's free-trade policies.
The report is scheduled to be submitted this week to the Cabinet Council on Natural Resources and Environment, informed sources said yesterday. It gives no firm figures on how much federal oil tax revenues would be increased if exports were permitted, apparently because the Treasury and the departments of Energy and Transportation were unable to agree on revenue estimates.
Members of the study group, senior members of Congress and several trade organizations and lobbyists who have been monitoring the oil-export debate had said previously that the administration's desire to increase revenues was the primary reason for dusting off the politically volatile export proposal.
A draft of the report dated Oct. 27, however, says that "the primary reason for lifting the export ban would be our general commitment to free trade and a deregulated economy. The extensive attention given to tax revenues should not be taken to mean that the purpose of lifting the ban is to generate more taxes."
Danny J. Boggs of the White House office of policy development, chairman of the study group, said yesterday that the report has since been revised again, but he would not say in what way. Sources with access to information about the group's work said the revisions are minor and the final version will go to the Cabinet Council this week, but Boggs refused to confirm that, saying his group's work, "like a woman's, is never done."
If exports of oil from Alaska's North Slope were permitted, the profits of producer companies would presumably rise because their transportation costs to Japan on foreign-flag tankers would be lower than costs to Gulf Coast ports in U.S.-flag tankers. Supporters of the proposal to permit exports, including Boggs, have said that federal revenues would then increase because of the windfall oil-profits tax.
The Oct. 27 draft says that if the approximately 500,000 barrels a day of Alaskan oil now being shipped to the Gulf Coast through the Panama Canal were exported, the annual revenue increase from the windfall profits tax "would probably be about $134 to $170 million."
In addition, it says, the price of Alaskan oil sold on the West Coast, "now underpriced or discounted due to the lack of an alternative market," could also rise, adding another $90 million to $130 million in tax revenues annually.
The report notes that exports would affect the U.S. maritime industry by opening up the Alaska trade to foreign ships, but it also says that exports "would have beneficial effects on our foreign relations . . . It would be a sign both to our Far Eastern allies and to countries throughout the world that the United States will remain a reliable trading partner in the energy field and will not erect restrictive barriers of the kind we have argued against in other areas."
The maritime industry, which has furiously opposed the export proposal, commissioned a report by Robert R. Nathan Associates that questions both the economic benefits and the political wisdom of lifting the export ban. Among other things, the report says that a major chunk of the oil proposed for export is owned by the State of Alaska and thus is not subject to Federal taxation.
Approval of both houses of Congress would be required to permit the export of any Alaskan crude. Senior members of both houses, from both parties, have peppered the White House with letters of protest since news of the revived export proposal was published in September.