A House energy subcommittee voted 8 to 1 yesterday to hold hostage the $13 billion Department of Energy authorization bill in a protest aimed at forcing final approval of three agreed to parts of the energy bill.
House leaders and administration strategists fear that if these three relatively minor energy provisions are passed, Congress may just forget about the two major measures that remain. The energy subcommittee indicated yesterday it would rather run that risk than do nothing.
The remaining measures are the two that President Carter most wants - one raising the price of natural gas, the other taxing up the price of domestic oil, in both cases to discourage consumption.
Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee gave President Carter another dose of bad energy news when it expressed its opposition, 11 to 6 to imposition of import fees on foreign oil. The resolution that was sent to the full Senate has no legal force, but is an indicator of displeasure to come should Carter follow advice that he impose import duties if Congress fails to enact his proposed tax on domestic crude oil to cut use.
Carter also made no headway trying to round up votes among House conferees to the plan for gradual deregulation of new natural gas approved by a negotiating team last week. Reps. James Corman (D-Calif.), Henry Reuss (D-Wis.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) were all called to the White House and all told the president not to count on them as of now.
The House subcommittee vote was an outburst of frustration at the long deadlock on Carter's energy package. It was in part an effort to get some thing enacted to show the public that Congress means business, in part an expression of opposition to closed negotiations on natural gas and in part an effort to cut loose noncontroversial conservation measures in hopes the fiercely controversial natural gas and crude oil tax provisions would then be left to die.
Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), who opposes gas deregulation and the crude oil tax, offered the three energy programs which House Senate conferees have agreed to but are holding back until they complete work on the entire package as a final amendment to the Energy Department authorization bill.
Those programs encouraging reform of electric utility rate structures to save energy, provisions to order conversion of industries from oil and gas to coal and a collection of programs to encourage conservation had been drafted by the same subcommittee headed by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).
Moffett said it was appropriate that the subcommittee that originally wrote these programs should try to move them toward enactment to show the public and industry that Congress "means business" in the energy field. He was joined by Rep. Clarence Brown (Ohio), senior Republican on the subcommittee who opposes the gas deregulation plan as too slow.
The subcommittee then voted not to report the bill to the full Commerce Committee as a mark of protest against treatment of the energy bill.
Rep. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) was the only member to vote for moving the DOE bill. Dingell did at first, but then changed, saying he ought to be with his subcommittee members on something.