It is unlikely that the Senate would go along with an effort to keep domestic oil under price controls, Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D.W. Va.) said yesterday.
Unless stopped by Congress, President Carter's plan for a phased decontrol of prices will begin June 1. Controls would be lifted completely by September 1981.
Such a program, Byrd told reporters yesterday, is the only way to bolster U.S. production and end the "subsidy of foreign oil imports to the tune of $50 billion a year."
Byrd said Carter's decision to act now, rather than await the decontrol that under present law would automatically take place in 1981, was "courageous" and "right".
The Democratic leader said the phase-out of controls would encourage domestic exploration and production, and the tax on excess profits envisioned by the administration would protect consumers.
Carter's move, under heavy fire from congressional liberals, fueled a sharp exchange between the president and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who said Carter had surrendered to the oil companies. "Baloney," was Carter's response.
Although Carter said in Iowa Friday that he would accept a congressional ban on decontrol, Byrd predicted Congress wouldn't enact such a ban. "I don't think the president's decision is going to be blocked," he said.
On another matter Byrd said that he had, as reported in the press, played a role in an apparently successful drive to modify tough air pollution standards proposed for new coal-fired generating plants.
But Byrd insisted the Environmental Protection Agency has not made a final decision, and said the reported changes are not a relaxation, but rather "a stabilizing" and a "balancing" between clean air and energy needs.
To make certain that EPA chief Douglas Costle goes through with his reported decision to back away from the strict sulfur "scrubbing" rules proposed last year, Byrd said that he and other senators, from coal states will meet with Carter Tuesday to press their case.
Byrd said he has not and will not trade his possible support for a strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT) for a relaxation of the EPA standard on coal-burning. "For anyone to infer that or imply that is ludicrous, ridiculous and nonsensical," he said. "In my 22 years in the Senate, I have never placed my vote on the auction block."