The Senate Energy Committee voted yesterday to crack down on gas-guzzling autos by forbidding the sale of any new 1980-model car that gets less 16 miles per gallon.
President Carter, meanwhile, made another plea for enactment of his omnibus energy bill and of his time endorsed a proposed 5-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax as the House began debating its own energy package. It will start voting on amendments today and plans to complete action this week.
The House bill contains a tax on gas guzzlers but no prohibition on their sale. Carter did not request such a ban. The Senate committee adopted the proposal by Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) 10 to 6. made it effective on 1980-model cars that will go on sale in late 1979, and voted to impose on manufacturers a $10,000 fine for the sale of each car that violates the standards.
The mileage minimum would rise by one mile per gallon each year to 21 mpg by 1985. The committee had testimony from the auto industry that it was "technically feasible" to meet these goals. New domestic cars now average 17.8 miles per gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), Energy Committee chairman, said the action showed that "we are taking conservation seriously,"
Besides acting on individual car mileage, the Senate Committee also voted to double the penalty imposed on auto manufacturers - starting with this fall's 1978 models - if company falls short of 18 mpg - rising to 27.5 mpg - by 1985 - the company under existing law would pay a fine of $30 for each car manufactured for each mile by which it missed the minimum. Another Metzenbaum amendment adopted 10 to 6 would increase the time to $100 effective with the 1978 models.
Carter's energy package, sent to Congress in April was a collection of taxes, rebates, grants and regulatory powers aimed at cutting oil consumption by 4.5 million barrels a day by 1985 - a 25 oer cent cut. Congressional studies suggested that he had overestimated by about 1 million 42-gallon barrels a day. Managers of the bill think that as it went to the floor it would save between 2 and 3 million barrels.
Most Republicans oppose the bill, charging that it does nothing to encourage production of more energy and is basically a tax bill, not an energy bill. They will offer a substitute to decontrol the prices of new oil and natural gas by the equivalent of 1.5 million barrels.
Carter would continue price controls on natural gas but at a higher level than exists now, and he would extend controls from gas shipped across state lines to intrastate gas consumed in the state where produced. He would impose a three-stage world levels as a conservation measure.
The Carter bill would also tax gas guzzlers starting with 1979 models, tax industrial use of oil and gas to encourage conversion to coal, and give tax credits to individuals who insulate their homes and to industries that convert boilers to coal. Other non-tax provisions would force changes in electric utility rate structures to require that power be sold at not less than cost, require energy standards for major home appliances, and authorize $900 million to help schools and hospitals insulate.
In his statement yesterday, the President made a special plea for his natural gas pricing program and for an amendment to be offered to strengthen the proposed tax on industrial users of gas and oil. He strongly opposed a proposed amendment for a "plowback" - giving part of the oil tax back to producers to use to search for more oil - and an attempt to reject his proposed rebate of the oil tax to consumers of home heating oil.
Carter originally proposed a standby gasoline tax that would go into effect if the nation's drivers failed to meet specified consumption goals. That was rejected overwhelmingly by the HOuse Ways and Means Committee House leaders are trying to recoup with a gasoline tax ear-marked for highway maintenance and mass transit.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) predicted yesterday that the HOuse will back the President on the multibillion-dollar issue of the price of natural gas. He would not predict how the gasoline tax issue would come out. But the leadership attempt to raise the present 4 cent gasoline tax to 9 cents faces an uphill fight.
The oil equalizatiion tax is expected to increase the price of gasoline by 4 to 7 cents a gallon. The 5-cent gasoline tax would be on top of that.
House Republican leaders yesterday criticized the administration bill as "punitive, negative, a tax bill rather than an energy bill."
It would, said Rep. Barber B. Conable (N.Y.), senior Republican on Ways and Means, "impose a burden on the people without doing any good. It would spread the shortage with taxes."
It would give us the worst of both worlds," said Rep. Willis D. Gradison (R-Ohio)" - higher price without assurance of more supply."