The House Commerce Committee yesterday refused to go along with a proposed six-month ban on nuclear power plant construction, increasing the chances for a floor fight on the issue later this year.
The committee rejected, 24 to 18, and amendment by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) that would prohibit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from issuing new construction permits for nuclear power units for six months beginning Cot. 1.
The amendment, attached to the NRC's $373.3 million 1980 budget authorization, sailed through the Interior Committee last month, at which time House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) predicted "over-whelming dupport" for it on the House floor.
"If we'd lost here today we would have been whomped on the floor," said George Gleason of the American Nuclear Energy Council, which lobbied heavily against the amendment. "We're encouraged by this vote . . . It means Congress will take a responsible attitude."
The question now goes before the Rules Committee, where, Markey said, he would try to work "legislative legerdemain" so that the Interior Committee version, with his amendment, will be the one that goes to the floor.
"Today was a game of raw power politics but I don't think [the opposition] will in the long run be able to withstand the revelations and more revelations that are coming out" about promblems with nuclear power, Markey said.
Critics of the amendment argued that halting construction permits for six months, without stopping plants already built from going into operation, would be "an empty, symbolic gesture of no real significance," as Rep. David A. Stockman (R-Mich.) put it.
Six plants being planned in four states would be affected. Markey had said the six-month delay would cost each plant's utility $48 million, but Stockman said it would be closer to $80 million. The proposal, Stockman argues, was "an effort to legitimize and give congressional sanction to all the half-baked and unsubstantiated conclusions . . . being shamelessly propagated by the windmill and wood-stove people."
The NRC staff has said that no new construction permits or operating licenses will be issued until August because of a continuing evaluation of the events in March at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has approved a ban on permits to nuclear plants in states that have not obtained approval of evacuation and emergency preparations from the NRC.
The House Commerce Committee yesterday approved a milder version of that idea, voting to require the NRC to evaluate existing emergency plans and identify inadequate ones.
The committee also approved a suggestion from Rep. Ronald M. Mottl (D-Ohio) to require NRC notification of governors whose states are about to be entered by vehicles carrying "radioactive materials." The 16-to-13 vote rejected complaints that the term would cover dental X-rays and medical equipment and make the bill unworkable.
Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) objected to it on grounds that "local forces who are intending to destroy the nuclear industry in this country" would use the disclosure provision to mount demonstrations along the transport routes.