House-Senate energy conferees in their first action tentatively approved legislation yesterday requiring local utilities and the federal government to help people insulate their homes.
Meanwhile, a House Interior subcommittee approved, 14 to 11, a bill aimed at breaking up major oil companies growing control over other energy resources. The bill, which oil companies oppose as a possible first step toward requiring them to divest themselves of other assets, provides that after 1979 no major oil company that owns coal or uranium reserves can obtain new drilling rights for oil or natural gas in the federal domain.
The home insulation program would require utilities to inform their customers of the benefits of insulation, storm windows and other items to keep out the cold and save heat. The local gas or electric company would also have to offer to inspect the home and advise the resident of his needs.
The utility would also be required to help arrange for a loan and installation of insulation if the customer requested it. The utility would have to furnish its customers with a list of lenders and installers in the area, negotiate with them for a package deal on request and permit customers to repay loans on monthly utility bills whether the loan is made by the utility or a lending institution.
In general, the utility would be prohibited from making insulation loans or installing insulation to prevent unfair competition with local lending institutions and insulation companies. But the conferees agreed to a long list of waivers and exemptions to permit utilities to perform these services if they do now, are permitted to by state law or if there would otherwise not be enough credit or material to speed up the nation's insulation program.
The Department of Energy could force a utility out of the lending or installing business if it determines the utility is charging unreasonable interest on loans or stifling competition by small insulation companines.
The Federal Trade Commission would make an 18-month study on which Congress would base a permanent decision on whether utilities should be permitted to loan or install.
President Carter wanted to require utilities to make loans and install insulation in an effort to speed the energy-saving insulation program.
The conferees also agreed on federal financial aid for the program. They tentatively approved grants of up to $800 to help low-income families insulate, and loan guarantees for middle-income people. The government could use $3 billion to guarante low-interest loans for persons with income not above the median for the area. Another $2 billion could be used to guarantee unsubsidized loans in areas short of credit.
Still pending when the conference adjourned until Monday was a program of 4 per cent direct loans approved by the Senate to push installation of solar heat.Also unresolved was whether costs of utility home inspections would be borne by the individual customer to go into the utility's rate base and borne by all customers as higher rates.
The conferees have got off to a slow start on what promises to be a long, hard task for compromising very different House and Senate versions of Carter's energy package. In three days they were unable to finish work on one of the least controversial parts of the program.
At one point yesterday Sen. John A. Durkin (D-N.H.), complaining of the slow pace, said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) had "objected to everything except the color of the paper."
Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio) replied that Dingell, who managed the home insulation provisions in the house, was only doing his job of upholding the House position. Dingell added that the tradition of comity between the two bodies requires that conferees not engage in personal references. He suggested that perhaps after Durkin (now serving his secon year) has been around longer "he will come to an appreciation of that."
"The people in New Hampshire can't burn comity this winter." snapped Durkin.
The House bill seeking to break up horizontally integrated major oil companies is somewhat similar to an amendment Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) offered unsuccessfully to an energy bill in the Senate last month. It was reapproved by a subcommittee headed by Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) after a 12-to-11 vote on Tuesday was vacated because of miscast proxy votes.