A group of House Democratic energy conferees agreed yesterday after five meeting on a counterproposal to the Senate on natural gas pricing less generous to producers than the Senate wants.
Like the proposition approved by a bare majority of Senate conferees after four months of stalemate, the still unofficial House proposal would gradually lift price controls from newly discovered gas after seven years. It reportedly would restrict the definition of new offshore gas that would qualify for higher prices, but would loosen the Senate definition of new onshore gas.
The plan will be presented to the rest of the House energy conferees Monday and is expected to win majority approval. The formal House-Senate conference may then reconvene Tuesday for the first time since Christmas, so the Senate can formally present the plan it drafted last week and the House makes its counter off.
One House conferee said he expected the Senate would not accept the House Proposal. He said the attitude at the House conferees' meeting was to give members with strong pro-regulation view one more shot, in hopes the proposal would not be considered such a basic change as to cause the conference to break up for good. The House had approved President Carter's plan to continue price controls on gas last year, while the Senate voted for deregulation.
Carter's top priority energy package has been bogged down for a year waiting for a solution to the gas impasses.
House conference leaders refused to discuss details of their proposal. But others said it calls for price deregulation at the end of 1984 and empowers the president or Congress to reimpose controls for two years if prices rise too high. This is like the Senate plan.
The difference, a member said, is that the House plan would put a floating cap on prices during 1984, the last year of controls, that would permit prices to rise as much as 15 percent. During the previous years, prices could move under a formula that probably would permit less increase.
If the industry raised prices to the limit during 1984, it would be a warning to Congress that controls should be reimposed, a member said.
House members reportedly defined new offshore gas in a way making it eligible for less annual price increase than onshore gas. And the definition liberal than the Senate version, said a House member, by including gas from an existing well from which no gas was sold before the date of Carter's energy message to Congress last April.
The House proposal, unlike the Senate plan, also would retain controls on high-priced intrastate gas when contracts are renegotiated.