Five months after he said he would do so, President Reagan yesterday sent Congress a bill to abolish the Department of Energy, a proposal he said would lift "the heavy hand of government and government regulations" from energy production.
The bill, which would shift most of DOE's functions to the Department of Commerce, is the result of months of negotiations between the Reagan administration and Senate leaders who either opposed part of what Reagan proposed or who might have lost jurisdiction over energy and related issues.
Despite resolution of those differences, the bill appears to have little chance of being adopted this year because of anticipated opposition in the House of Representatives. "We're going to give it a good shot, our best effort, and see where it falls," said Secretary of Energy James B. Edwards.
Edwards, who said when he was appointed that he came to Washington to "work himself out of a job", said that he intends to stay on for the time being.
Abolishing the Department of Energy, a department only five years old, was one of Reagan's campaign promises, a vow to replace government planning and regulation with the workings of the marketplace. "Through constant overregulation of energy producers and industries in the past, the Department of Energy shackled our drive to increase domestic production," he said yesterday.
Reagan said that the proposal will "simply change the role of government from controlling the activities of energy industries to complimenting them."
Edwards said that the DOE budgets for fiscal 1981, 1982 and 1983 under Reagan is $10.5 billion less than the Carter administration budget projections. Approximately 2,000 jobs have also been eliminated, mostly through attrition.
White House counselor Edwin Meese III said that shifting the Department of Energy's functions would save another $1 billion in the first year and still another $1 billion in the following three years after adoption. In addition, he said, another 3,000 federal jobs would be eliminated.
The bill would shift some energy policy making and planning activities, emergency preparedness and other functions to the Commerce Department where they would be presided over by a deputy secretary for Energy. The administration created that position with jurisdiction over a large number of functions to help mollify objections from Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman James A. McClure (R-Idaho).
The bill also provides for a deputy secretary for defense programs within Commerce to be responsible for nuclear-related defense activities. Armed Services Chairman Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.) had sought to carve out those activities as a separate function with appropriate status.
McClure noted yesterday that during the discussions about the Reagan proposal the emphasis had shifted from "dismantlement" to "reorganization" and the to the concept of "merger."
"I want to emphasize that the legislative proposal we are introducing today does not, I repeat, does not 'dismantle' the Department of Energy and scatter it throughout the federal bureaucracy," said McClure.
"I think the most important thing DOE has done is to bring all the energy factors under one roof," Edwards said yesterday. "Basically we're preserving that umbrella as we move it over to the Department of Commerce."
In the House of Representatives, where serious opposition is expected, House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) was critical of the bill. "I had thought that the President might have reconsidered his campaign rhetoric about dismantling DOE in in light of our nation's continuing need to work, plan and produce for energy independence," he said. Wright said the move amounted to a downgrading of energy as a national priority.