The House Interior Committee approved, 30 to 13, yesterday a bill that could provide a new way of moving coal long distances by mixing coal dust with water and pumping it through a pipeline like oil.
The bill would authorized the secretary of the interior to grant certificates permiting coal slurry pipelines to cross property of railroads, which are now the principal carriers of coal and are fiercely fighting the bill.
Pipeline companies contend they can move coal more cheaply than railroads and would do away with long coal trains rumbling throuh small Western towns all day long.
New methods of transporting coal become important as President Carter urges on Congress a national energy policy which relies on doubling coal production and switching industrial boilers from use of oil and natural gas to coal to reduce reliance on foreign oil.
First pipelines are being planned to move Western coal from the Mountain States to the Southwest and Pacific Northwest.
Besides the railroads, opposition comes from some environmentalist and members of Congress from arid Western states who fear the large amounts of water needed for the pipeline would not leave enough for agriculture and other at-home needs.
The committee wrote in a requirement that before permission to build a pipeline could be given, the U. S. Geological Survey must make a study of the adverse impact on local water supplies. Pipeline proponents said this could mean a five-year delay.
The bill may go to the House Public Works Committee and possibly the Commerce Committee for further action before being sent to the House floor. Te Senate approved a slurry pipeline bill four years ago.
Meanwhile, Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) returned from a 12-day visit to China inspired by the patience of the Orient and ready to have another try at breaking the three-month deadlock on the natural gas pricing part of Carter's energy package.
The House last year approved Carter's plan to continue price controls on natural gas at higher levels, while the Senate voted for deregulation, calling it the only way to produce needed additional amounts of gas. The bill has been stuck in a House Senate conference ever since because the Senate conferees are evenly divided on the issue and unable to agree on a compromise to offer the Houe.
Jackson said he was "still hopeful" of getting agreement on gas but admitted there isn't much time left. Other legislation is demanding the attention of Congress. Jackson said the Senate Energy Committee which he chairs has other legislation scheduled for action every morning for the next month.
Other factors working against passage of the controversial gas and tax parts of the energy bill are the coal strike, which points up the risks of industrial reliance on coal, the anti-tax climate in Congress, short-term gluts of oil and gas, and a disinclination at the Capitol to go theough hell for Jimmy Carter.
On the other hand, working for final approval of a bill reasonably resembling Carter's are the facts that Congress has devoted 10 months to this single piece of legislation and fears that it will be blamed at the polls in November if the energy bill fails.