On this much, everyone agrees: George Crossland is an Osage Indian who works at the Department of Energy, and Sen. James Abourezk (D-S.D.) is a friend of Indians who dislikes DOE's natural-gas deregulation proposals.
There is less agreement about what happened after Crossland approached Abouresk's staff yesterday, wondering what would stop the senator's threat to filibuster the gas bill.
You see, Crossland's superiors down at DOE want to take the controls off natural gas prices, as the bill provides. Abourezk wants to keep them on.
As Abourezk understood it, his old acquaintance Crossland had been dispatched by the office of DOE Secretary James R. Schlesinger to sound out the senator on the idea of smoking a peace pipe, if you will.
The way Abourezk got it, DOE was saying it would do just about anything for him if he would put a lid on his criticism of the gas bill that is expected to reach the Senate floor next week.
They don't want the contents of this bill to come on during debate during a filibuster," Abourezk said. If the public finds out that's in there - $28 billion of new, direct costs - there will be recall petitions for everyone who votes for it."
Crossland, director of Indian affairs at DOE, was not returning telephone calls yesterday, but the department speaking for him, flatly denied that anyone was playing let's-make-a-deal.
Department spokesman Jim Bishop said that Crossland had acted entirely on his own in approaching Kathryn Harris Tijerina, an Abourezk aide on the Select Committee on Indian Affairs.
Reading from a memo Crossland dictated for the files yesterday Bishop quoted him as saying he had made the approach "solely on my own and with no authority from the secretary."
"I contacted a friend to inquire if the senator would be willing to engage in a dialogue with anybody at the DOE to discuss our differences. I did not represent that any deal was being offered. That was not the intent of my phone call," the memo said.
Crossland's memo did not mention, however, that on Tuesday he had called Albuquerque, N.M., to talk with LaDonna Harris, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, with a similar inquiry.
She is Kathryn's mother, Indian, the wife of former senator Fred Harris (D-Okla.) and a close friend of Abourezk.
Mrs. Harris relayed word to Abourezk that Crossland indicated to her that he was calling at the behest of "people in Schlesinger's office" and that he wondered what it would take to get him to ease his opposition.
Abourezk said he interpreted Crossland's representations to mean that the administration, through an Indian acquaintance at DOE, wanted him to know he could win approval to a pet project or appointment if he played ball.
That sort of horse-trading happens all the time in Washington, of course, but Abourezk lamented that DOE picked this horse to trade on.
"They've lost their innocence," he said. "They've become just like everybody else, which is unfortunate. In a way, it's sad. What I always liked about Carter was that he wasn't like all the others."
Abourezk has threatened to filibuster against the bill, the product of a lengthy and tangled conference between the House and Senate, when it reaches the Senate floor.
The administration is pushing forcefully for approval of the measure, a key part of the president's energy package.
In another move yesterday - one which is announced with full ruffle and flourish at a press conference - DOE disclosed new regulations aimed at producing more domestic oil and boosting industry profits.
One regulation will provide price incentives to encourage use of advanced tecnology for extracting crude oil which cannot be produced by conventional drilling methods.
Some producers will be allowed to charge world-market prices, about $14 per barrel, for new oil brought up with the so-called tertiary recovery methods. U.S. oil ranges from about $5 to $12 per barrels.
Another rule change will allow owners of "stripper" wells to combine operations without forfeiting price breaks for any increased production that would result. Strippers, producing 10 barrels or less per day, are free of price controls.
David J. Bardin of DOE estimated that the new regulations could result in new production of up to 1 million barrels a day by 1985.