The power to set rates charged by coal slurry pipelines was not transferred to the new Department of Energy, as reported in Thursday's Washington Post, but will remain with the Interstate Commerce Commission.
President Carter will send legislation to Congress next month that could cut in half the 12-year process of building and licensing nuclear power plant, James R. Schlesinger Jr. said yesterday.
Schlesinger, who is Carter's choice to head the new Department of Energy, made the statement after his Senate confirmation hearing. He will be formally nominated by the President this morning and is expected to be confirmed by the Senate by Friday.
The proposal to streamline the licensing process would accelarate the development of nuclear power of it is approved by Congress.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which licenses nuclear power plants, lists 63 nuclear reactors in operation - providing 8.7 per cent of the nation's electricity - and 71 plants under construction. Carter energy officials have said privately they would like to see 300 conventional nuclear reactors operating by the end of the century.
During 3 1/2 hours of hearings before the Senate Energy Committee, Schlesinger said, "Nuclear is an essential ingredient in the energy mix. We are removing the uncertainties and obstacles to licensing, but the decision to go is the utilities, not the government's."
It now taken an average of eight years to license and construct a nuclear power plant, and an additional four years to meet further licensing requirements set forth by the NRC. Carter and Schlesinger have stressed the need to speed up the process, noting that Japan and most European industrialized countries require about half the time the United States does to bring nuclear plants into production.
White House officials say Carter's proposal to reduce licensing time would not ease the present environmental, health and safety requirements for nuclear plants.
"We are attempting to bring about a one-stop review," said one official, "and are taking a very serious look at standardized designs and early site review by increasing the state's participation."
The Carter proposal will urge the states to indentify potential nuclear power plant sites, forming "site banks," well before utilities apply for licensing to build plants.
The legislation will also propose a new nuclear waste policy with the federal government acquiring all spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors. Schlesinger told the energy panel that the utilities would pay a storage fee when turning the radioactive fuel rods over to the government.
To date only 3 per cent of the nuclear waste at disposal sites around the country is from commerical power plants, and the rest is from the government's nuclear weapons and other defense programs.
The used rods at commercial plants have been accumulating on the plant sites for years, raising questions about proper disposal of the highly radioactive waste and triggering protests across the country about nuclear power. Schlesinger said a new waste policy is needed because the administration has decided not to go ahead with the plans to reprocess the rods to extract plutonium and uranium.
Schlesinger was warmly received by members of the Energy Committee, and is expected to wim unanimous approval when the panel votes on his nomination today. He said he expects to have the 20,000-employee Department of Energy organized by Oct.1, the start of the new fiscal year. The energy department is the first new cabinet post formed since the Department of Transportation was created in 1968.
Schlesinger praised Congress for passing the department bill in "just five months, an amazing and gratifyingly short period of time."
Asked by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) and Sen. James Abourezek (D-S.D.) about the major oil companies' coal interests, Schlesinger said, "The administration is taking the position that horizontal divestiture is premature," meaning that Carter officials do not favor forcing major oil companies to sell off their coal and nuclear interests.
He added that he expects coal production to be "adequate to keep prices down," but that the Justice Department would be monitoring the industry for possible anti-competitive practices.
Schlesinger expressed support for a measure pending in Congress to mandate minimum auto mileage standards, but warned against "frequent gyrations in standards" that create a burden on the auto industry. "Whatever is done should be done now," he said.
He said the Carter administration would explore proposals that federal government become directly involved in drilling on public lands, and that suggestions that the government, rather than oil companies, purchase oil abroad would receive "very careful examination."
Asked about administration plans to finance the proposed Alaskan natural gas pipeline, which could cost an estimated $10 billion, he said, "The government preference is for private financing and not loading it on the consumer."
Schlesinger, 48 served as head of the Defense Department, the Central Intellengence Agency and the old Atomic Energy Commission under Presidents Nixon and Ford.