The House yesterday passed in relatively intact form President Carter's mammoth energy bill, which its sponsors called a solid first step toward developing a national energy policy.
The 244 to 177 vote ended a week of debate and three months of committee consideration. The bill now goes to the Senate, which plans to act on it after the August recess, which begins today.
Just before final passage, Republicans narrowly failed 203 to 219 in an effort to knock out the oil equalization tax, which is the heart of Carter's oil conservation plan. It would tax domestic crude oil in three annual steps starting next year until it reached the world price and would add 4 to 7 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Al Ullman (D-Ore.), urged the House of reject this "gutting" amendment, saying: "You can be very proud of this energy package. Hold it together."
The President's program is designed to decrease dependence on foreign oil, which now constitutes nearly half the nation's consumption. Its aim is to conserve oil, convert to coal and encourage more production and development of other fuels. It would do this through a complex series of taxes, rebates, regulations and government aid.
Carter estimated his program, which he delivered to Congress on April 20, would save 4.5 million barrels of oil a day by 1985. Several independent reports concluded that he overestimated savings by about 1 million barrels. Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio), who managed the measure on the House floor, estimated the bill, as it left the House, would save between 2.5 million and 2.8 million barrels a day.
The only thing Carter lost completely was his standby gasoline tax, which the House decided would not save gas. His proposed tax on gas-guzzling automobiles was weakened, and his plan to tax industrial users of oil and natural gas was cut back. But he won the most fiercely foughts issue when the House backed his proposal to continue price controls on natural gas. And his oil tax was approved as requested.
Republicans contended that Carter relied too much on conservation and proposed very little to encourage production fo more energy. They offered a substitute bill yesterday that called for deregulation of natural gas and incentive "plowback" payments to oil producers. That was rejected, 273 to 147.
Since the proposed taxes were not intended to raise revenue but to hold down oil use. Carter proposed that they be rebated to the public, in hopes that the money would be spent on something other than petroleum products. By 1985 his plan would have given back almost every tax dollar collected.
But as the bill left the house, the government would get about $53 billion in net revenue by 1985, largely because of three factors. First, the House extended to 1985 the existing 4-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline, which would have dropped to 1 1/2 cents in 1979. This will add about $21 billion in revenue. Then the House provided a rebate of the oil-equalization tax for next year only. It presumably will enact a rebate for future years next year, and that will amount to about $26 billion. The House also picked up $7.5 billion in revenue by [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the individual tax deduction for state gasoline taxes.
Considering its complexities, and the parliamentary obstacles in the House, passage of the measure [WORD ILLEGBILE] months after it was received was a remarkable feat.
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On the final vote yesterday, 231 Democrats and 13 Republicans voted to pass the bill, while 50 Democrats and 127 Republicans voted against it. All Washington-area members - Democrats Joseph L. Fisher (Va.), Herbert E. Harris (Va.) and Gladys N. Spellman (Md.) and Republican Newton 1. Steers (Md.) - Voted for it.
The following are major provisions of the energy bill as passed by the House:
Home Insulation - Residents could take a tax credit up to $400 for insulating their homes and up to $2,150 for solar or wind-energy equipment installed between last April 20 and the end of 1984. Local utilities would be required to advise customers of their insulation needs and sould make loans and install insulation if there were not an adequate number of suppliers in the area. Grants of up to $800 would be given low-income persons could get low-interest loans.
The bill authorizes $900 million to help schools and to audit insulation needs of municipal buildings. Insulation tax credits would also be available to business.
Appliances - Major home appliances such as stoves and television sets, but not toasters, must meet energy standards to be set in about two years and must bear labels telling how much energy they consume.
Natural Gas - Gas, the most-used home heating fuel, would continue under price controls, but at a higher level. Controls would be extended from gas piped across state lines ot include gas consumed in the state where it is produced. The present ceiling of $1.46 per thousand cubic feet for new gas would go up initially to $1.75 and would gradually rise along with the price of oil. Old gas now flowing under contract would remain at its lower contract price. The gas industry tried hard to kill price controls and will try again in the Senate.
Electricity - Electric utilities would be required to revise rate structures to encourage conservation. Power could not be sold at less than cost to big users, although states could permit sale at less than cost to residential customers. Interconnections would be required between utilities to permit switching power in an emergency.
Coal Conversion - Taxes, rebates and regulatory power are included to speed conversion of industry and utilities from boiler use of scarce oil or natural gas to abundant coal. All utilities must convert by 1990. Most new plants must use a fuel other than oil or gas. A tax on industrial use of oil and gas would fall heaviest ($3 a barrel by 1985) on industries that can convert.Those that cannot use coal but could conserve fuel they do use would be taxed at a lower rate. A long list of industries whose products would be injured by coal use were exempted. The tax would be rebated dollar-for-dollar to help pay industrial and utility costs of converting to coal.
Auto Taxes - Starting with 1979 models in the fall of 1978, a tax would be imposed on the purchase of gas-guzzling autos in an effort to make the industry build efficient cars or keep them off the road. That year the tax on a new car getting between 14 and 15 miles per gallon would be $339. By 1985 the tax could rise to $3.856 on a car getting less than 12.5 m.p.g. But by then the industry probably won't be making such an automobile, because under existing law companies would be heavily fined if their 1985 fleet average is less than 27.5 m.p.g.
The President proposed buying the guzzler tax to persons buying small, high-mileaze cars. That was killed because most of the sales would have gone to foreign imports. The revenue is now earmarked to help pay off the public debt. Also killed was Carter's proposed standby gasoline tax that could have gone up to 50 cents in 5-cent annual steps if motorists failed to meet specified gas consumption goals. The House also killed a proposal immediate 5-cent increase in the 4-cent federal gasoline tax, but extended the tax through 1985. The tax which finances construction of the interstate highway system, was scheduled to drop to 1 1/2 cents in 1979.
The bill would repeat the personal deduction for state gasoline taxes as of next year. For persons who itemize deductions on their federal income tax returns, that has provided a deduction of about $60. Persons buying electric cars would be given a tax credit up to $300.
Oil Tax - A tax imposed on domestic crude oil in three annual steps starting next year would force the price of domestic oil up to world levels to encourage conservation. It is estimated that will raise the price of gasoline by 4 to 7 cents a gallon and similarly increase the prices of all other petroleum products. The tax is to be rebated to the public next year, with special payments going to users of home heating oil. Congress would have to decide on future years' rebates in legislation next year.
Miscellany - Drillers for geothermal energy could deduct intangible drilling costs in one year, as oil and gas drillers are permitted to do. Excise taxes on buses and on parts and tires would be repealed, while the fuel tax on pleasure boats would be be increased by 2 cents a gallon.
The government would conduct solar-heat demonstration programs in federal buildings, but a van-pooling program to carry paying federal employees to and from works was killed.