President Carter will meet with oil industry officials today - and consumer and environmental representatives tomorrow - in an effort to dramatize his desire to obtain all the facts about the nation's energy problem.
The meetings, announced late yesterday, come in the wake of a series of administration defeats on energy in the Democratic-controlled Congress. The defeats have provoked the president and his aides to charge repeatedly that Congress has been "irresponsible" in its energy actions.
But Carter advisers have been every bit as concerned by what they concede is a prime cause of those defeats: that, despite presidential speeches and pronouncements, 77 percent of the public does not believe there is an energy crisis and blames the oil companies and the government for artificially creating the current shortages, according to the latest Gallup poll.
The energy meetings today and tomorrow are part of what apparently will be a series of steps by Carter to demonstrate that the problem is real and that the responsibility for solving it must be shared. On Tuesday, Carter bestowed upon the state governors the power to impose mandatory measures to regulate gasoline distribution. And meanwhile, it has been learned, White House officials have been discussing the possibility of holding a peacemaking summit with key Senate and House Democrats.
In another development, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided to suspend its ban on the gasoline additive MMT for the summer driving season, an action the oil industry says could add 340,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline per day to available supplies (Details, Page C1).
Originally, White House congressional liaison chief Frank Moore suggested to House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) that key Democratic leaders in Congress and their spouses come to a weekend retreat at Camp David, Md., where even Egypt and Israel had once been able to agree on peace. The plan was to be a social event, plus discussions on how to enact an energy program. But the various congressional leaders had other plans for the weekend. and agreed instead that they will tend to business next Wednesday at their leadership breakfast meeting at the White House.
The two-day energy meetings are, according to one White House official, "the president's own idea, completely." This official explained: "It is an effort on the part of the president to get at the facts of what the energy production and distribution problems are.
"It is an effort on our part to get any information that we might not already have. If they have any good ideas or facts that we do not now have, we want them."
The president will meet this afternoon with 15 or 20 officials from a cross-section of the oil industry, including executives of major and independent oil companies, dealers, jobbers and refiners. Tomorrow, he is to meet with approximately the same number of representatives from consumer and environmental groups.
Other administration officials expected to attend includ Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger, domestic policy chief Stuart Eizenstat and public liaison chief Anne Wexler.
The president and his aides had reacted angrily to the defeats of administration proposals in Congress, including a stunning House rejection of an emergency gasoline rationing plan that Congress had ordered the president to prepare. But at the same time, White House officials have spent much time discussing privately what many concede is the larger, underlying problem: that the public does not think there is an energy crisis.
"When 77 percent of the public feels like that, it is a real problem," said one Carter adviser. "And there is no use kidding ourselves." And the president said in his news conference Tuesday, " . . . until the Ameircan public gets aroused, we are going to have difficulty in Washington getting action taken."
The energy problem has set many of Washington's traditional political bedfellows to bickering, which at times has seemed headed for a trial separation.
Not only have the Democratic president and the Democratic Congress been hurling abuse at each other in public, but now the issue apparently has divided Massachusetts Democrats O'Neill and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.It happened, O'Neill told reporters yesterday, this week.
"I heard Ted Kennedy - we had a discussion last night," O'Neill said. "He says we're being ripped off by the oil companies. I told him I'd spend a couple of hours with him today - 'you just show me where we're being ripped off.'"
O'Neill, in a rambling discussion with reporters, went on to discuss the matter of blame for the recent energy bill defeats. "Congress alone is not responsible," he said. The press plays a part. Anybody who opposes the president, you give them a headline. I think there's a real crisis. I'd hate to think we're being ripped off by the oil companies, with all their profits these days."
Later, House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) came to the president's defense by taking on responsibility for himself - and for O'Neill - in the recent rejections of administration proposals.
"I don't know how the president can be faulted," he said. "I mean, Tip and I are the ones who went into their [congressional] districts, and helped them raise campaign money, and helped them get onto good committees . . . and then pleaded with them to support the president's programs - and they turn a deaf ear to us."
"It is not that the president is lacking in leadership," Wright said. It is that this group [the Democrats in Congress] does not want to be led. They are lacking in followship."
To which O'Neill added: 'Maybe the president ought to go the route I go. I just come in [to a congressman's office] and get down on bended knees."