Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger Jr. predicted yesterday that Congress would pass the long-awaited energy bill in early March.
"Let me reassert," he said, "that the clock is ticking. Every day lost makes the (energy) problem somewhat worse.
Schlesinger said the Carter administration is looking forward to 1978 "with enthusiasm and an expectation of getting the legislation that the nation needs and I think we'll have a new year's resolution regarding our energy problems."
The timing of the bill's final passage depends on the speed with which congressional energy conferees get back to work when Congress reconvenes next month, he said.
But final approval should come "four or five weeks into the new session,' Schlesinger predicted.
He was asked during an interview on the NBC "Today" program if the administration might still consider raising oil prices administratively if Congress fails to enact energy tax measures.
"I wouldn't refer to it as a threat," Schlesinger said. "But that possibility must continue to be contemplated . . . unless we have some reaction on the part of the Congress, I think we will have to think of alternatives. This is a poor alternative.
Schlesinger also said Americans can expect energy prices to be "somewhat higher a year from now." However, he said, the pending energy legislation contains "conservation devices." which will offset the higher prices.