President Carter sent to Capitol Hill yesterday his promised energy reorganization bill, which would vest in a single department of 20,000 employees and a $10.6 billion budget all energy pricing and development policies.
It would take over functions now scattered through more than 50 federal agencies, Carter said. "Nowhere is the need for reorganization and consolidation greater than in energy policy," the President said in his message to Congress.
Carter's proposal is for a new Department of Energy tailored for quick enactment, containing provisions seeking to avoid congressional, industrial and enviornmental opposition, which at this point appears muted.
The bill attempts to balance public land leasing responsibilities between the Interior and Energy departments without upsetting the delicate relationship between energy, industry, agriculture, and enviornmental concerns.
The President's proposal likewise skirts the nuclear safety issue by leaving the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as an independent agency.
Carter's plan would abolish the Federal Energy Administration, and Federal Power Commission, and the Energy Research and Development Administration, transfering programs in those agencies to the new Department of Energy.
The proposed department would also acquire energy functions from four departments and two independent agencies.
From the Interior Department it would take regional marketing functions over electric power, now handled by the Bureau of Reclamation and Interior's four regional power administrations; coal development and energy data programs, now in the Bureau of Mines; and control over the rate of public land leasing and energy porduction, now in the Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM would retain responsibility for actual leasing of public lands.
The new department would also get:
Statutory authority to set building conservation standards from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Voluntary industrial conservation programs from the Commerce Department.
Jurisdiction and administration of the naval petroleum and oil shale reserves in California, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah from the Department of Defense.
Authority to regulate electrical utility mergers from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Authority to set oil pipeline and coal slurry rates from the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Key members of the House and Senate predicted that an energy reorganization bill would be enacted this spring. Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) said he expects the Senate to pass the bill this month.
James R. Schlesinger, Carter's chief energy adviser who is expected to be nominated to head the new department, said that he hoped Congress would enact the President's proposal before April 20, the day Carter has promised to give Congress his comprehensive energy policy treatment.
Referring to the proposal sent Congress yesterday, Schlesinger said, "There is no substantive policy in this Legislation."
Pointing to a "highly favourable" response from a morning briefing Carter gave congressional leaders, Schlesinger noted there might be congressional opposition to removing the power to set goals and production rates on oil gas and coal leases from the Interior Department.
"Another area of delicacy," Schlesinger said, is the President's proposal to place energy pricing and regulatory functions in the same department that will formulate energy development goals.
Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz), who chairs the House Interior Committee, which has a wide latitude of oversight over Interior Department programs, said, "I have some fear that trouble may develop in actual implementation - I don't want a single-focus agency moving into the pattern of lands management."
Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus has assured Udall that he is satisfied with the balance between Interior and the proposed Energy Department.
Schlesinger, responding to questions at a White House briefing, said there was no such thing as "absolute authority" on leasing questions.
Carter's proposal anticipates congressional, industrial and special-interest concern over possible friction between the two departments by establishing a leasing liaison committee to be made up of personnel from the Energy Department, which would be responsible for keeping abreast of the Interior Department leasing program.
The mining industry has traditionally guarded its relationship with the Interior Department, which is looked upon a sensitive to its needs. At this point, most mining industry officials are reserving judgement on the impact the Carter proposal would have on them.
Another potential problem area for the Carter proposal is the transfer of natural gas and petroleum priving and allocation program pricing and allocation programs currently within the FPC and FEA to an Economic Regulatory Administration within the Energy Department.
Sclesinger said that the administration is aware of congressional concern over the President's proposal to deal with pricing of natural gas, crude oil and petroleum products on a comprehensive basis.
In anticipation of such concern, the Carter proposal would "insulate" the regulatory function from the new department's policy making and development programs by establishing a board of hearings and appeals and an administrative law judge process to handle regulatory questions.
Implicit in this provision is an effort to streamline FEA pricing decisions and reduce the backlog of what one aide describes as "cumbersome" FPC procedures.