"Sunset legislation" phasing out agencies or programs that have outlived their usefulness is a popular idea in Congress. But yesterday, when Rep. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) tried to apply a little sunset philosophy to some select House committees he says he thinks have outlived their usefulness, he was only partially successful.

The House voted, 214 to 187, to end the Select Committee on Population, but it voted 338 to 75 to keep the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, and the Rules Committee voted to extend the life of the Select Committee on the Outer Continental Shelf. The Rules Committee won't take up the fate of the Select Committee on Congressional Operations until next week.

Until yesterday, the House had four select committees that were supposed to be temporary creations to focus on a single problem or single piece of legislation not getting attention elsewhere. The four were Narcotics Abuse, Population, the Outer Continental Shelf and Congressional Operations. (Two other select committees, on Intelligence and Aging, are permanent.)

Dodd said the four, "like many things, have taken on a life of their own, at a cost of more than $2.5 million a year."

But Dodd was first defeated in the Rules Committee, of which he is a member. It voted 8 to 6 to allow the Outer Continental Shelf panel to continue until June 30, 1980.

That happened even though the committee was created only to write one piece of legislation, a bill controlling oil leasing on the outer continental shelf that was passed last year, and despite the fact that the Interior Committee wanted the OCS jurisdiction back, and the fact that the speaker and the Rules Committee chairman were opposed to continuing the OCS committee.

OCS Chairman John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.) argued that the panel still had to do some important oversight on its bill.

Dodd said he still has a chance to defeat reestablishing the select committee on the floor.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), speaking on behalf of the Narcotics Abuse Committee, said it had "held 51 hearings and issued 21 reports, and we're just beginning to scratch the surface of the drug problem." The panel's previous budget was a little less than $725,000, he said.

The House went along, but decided that the Population Committee cost too much and that the subject could just as well be handled by the other 11 committees that have jurisdiction over population control.

"Every weekend members go home and denounce federal agencies with duplicative jurisdictions that cause waste of taxpayers' money," Dodd said, adding that it was hypocritical to allow it "in our institution."

He said that was why he voted Tuesday to create a new select panel to look into committee jurisdictions, cut duplication and abolish unnecessary committees. But some of his colleagues didn't agree with him on that, either. The move to establish that committee passed 208 to 200.