The Senate last night passed a bill to create a department of energy to permit coherent administration of the national energy policy President Carter has asked Congress to enact. The vote was 74 to 10.
Energy functions now scattered through the government would be pulled together into a cabinet-level department to be headed by James R. Schlesinger Jr., the President's energy adviser. Functions of the Federal Power Commission, Energy Research and Development Administration and Federal Energy Administration would be among those transferred to the low department.
The House is to consider a similar bill in about two weeks.
Sen. John H. Glenn Jr. (D-Ohio) said that, far from creating an oil-powerful energy czar as some have feared, the bill created a department which wll be "as weak as it can be and still have a hope of getting the job done."
He said the President will have to keep close watch to make sure the department is able to perform its task of trying to ensure that the nation has enough energy.
Glenn complained that while automoblies consume 40 per cent of the nation's crude oil, the department of Transportation, not department of energy, will police standards for auto fuel efficiency.
The Enviromental Protection Agency, not department of energy, will police clean air standards, said Glenn. And the Department of Interior, which is slowing down awarding of offshore oil leases when it should be speeding up, said Glenn, will continue to run that program.
Glenn also noted that the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee had refused to empower the secretary to set prices for fossil fuels, which Glenn called the "key to his power." The President asked that the FPC's power to set the wellhead price of natural has be given to the secretary.
The committee felt this would give too much power to one person, and reached a compromise with the administration. This would place power to decide prices of natural gas, the limited power FEA now has to set domestic oil prices and the wholesale price of interstate electricity in an in dependent board, whose actions would be subject to a veto by the President. The secretary could make proposals to the board and set a deadline for it to make a decision.
The House will would leave the price-setting power with the secretary, as the administration prefers.
Managers of the bill dropped a sentence from a setion on energy planning which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed as opening the door to national planning of the economy.
Glenn said the intent was simply to look ahead at future energy options - "as any good businessman would do" - but agreed to delete the language rather than open up a fight about government controls.
An amendment by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to permit payment of attorneys' fees for interveners in rate cases and others matters before the department was rejected, 59 to 34, as an issue that should be considered for all government agencies in separate legialation.