The Senate voted 55 to 27 yesterday to ban the manufacture and sale of gas-guzzling automobiles in the United States, starting with 1980 models getting less than 16 miles to the gallon.
President Carter, meanwhile, won another round in his effort to continue price controls on natural gas as the Senate Energy Committee rejected by a 9-to-9 tie a proposal to deregulate new onshore gas. The issue will be fought out on the floor of the Senate, which is also closely divided on it.
The minimum standard permitted for gas-guzzlers would go up one mile per gallon a year to 21 mpg in 1985 and thereafter. A company manufacturing a car falling below these standards could be fined $10,000 for each car built or sold.
"This says the day of the gas-guzzler is over," said Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), manager of the energy conservation bill to which it was added in the Senate Energy Committee.
Sen. Robert P. Griffin (R-Mich.) opposed the amendment, saying it would mean that large families must either keep their old big cars or buys two or three little cars.
Johnston said setting tougher minimum standards is "the best way to beat the gas-guzzler tax" that the House passed, though in weaker form that the President had requested as part of his omnibus energy saving bill.
The United Auto Workers' leadership has endorsed tougher mileage standards instead of the guzzler tax, believing this would cause fewer job layoffs.
Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr., (D-Mich.) said it wouldn't be fair for Congress to change the rules on the auto industry, which is already trying to comply with a 1975 law setting mileage standards.
The 1975 act, which takes effect with 1978 models now coming off assembly lines, requires the fleet average of an auto company to get 18 mpg. That means big cars that get less than 18 mpg can be averaged against a company's little cars that get more; the big cars can thus still be built.
The provision adopted yesterday means there would be no averaging. Every big car falling below the minimum would be banned. If it became law, it would mean that the auto industry would have to find more efficient engines or quit making low-mileage cars in two years.
A number of larger cars and station wagons get less than 16 miles per gallon now. But presumably auto makers will be able to improve their mileage over the next two years, so that the exact effects of the legislation passed by the Senate yesterday are uncertain.
There is also no guarantee the gas-guzzler ban will stay in the bill. The administration did not ask for it, preferring a guzzler tax that would permit their purchase by those who would pay the price. The House did not consider a flat prohibition of big cars, siding with Carter on the guzzler tax instead.
The bill to which the guzzler ban was attached is one of five measures into which the Senate has divided the arter energy package. The House passed it as one bill.
Another part of the package is a bill that would continue price controls on natural gas but at a higher level and wipe out the present dual market by imposing controls on intrastate gas consumed in the state where produced, as well as that flowing across state lines.
Carter would increase the ceiling on gas from the present $1.46 per thousand cubic feet (MCF) to $1.75 and then let it rise gradually with the price of oil.The gas industry insists that the only way to get more production and avoid shortages like those of last winter is to take off controls and let market forces set the price.
The administration contends this would cost consumers $10 billion a year more than the administration plan and would produce little more gas. The House adopted the President's plan.
The Senate Energy Committee rejected two deregulation plans yesterday. A proposal by Sen. Dewey F. Bartlett (R-Okla.) to deregulate all gas - new gas immediately and old gas as existing contracts expire - was rejected 12 to 6. Johnston, a leading spokesman for the oil-gas industry, opposed Bartlett, saying deregulation of old gas could not be justified as an incentive for more production.
Then the committee rejected by the 9-to-9 tie the deregulation proposal defeated in the House that would deregulate new onshore gas now, continue old gas under controls, and decontrol offshore gas in five years.
Deregulation supporters may make a third try today with a proposal for gradual deregulation over a period of years.