The House Democratic Caucus yesterday called for reestablishing federal price controls and allocations for home heating oil.
Meanwhile, the Senate Energy Committee moved ahead on a bill setting up an Energy Mobilization Board with powers to cut red tape for priority energy projects but without power to waive federal, state or local laws in the process.The power to waive substantive laws has been a controversial issue in the debate over the board.
And the Senate Finance Committee, in another energy-related action, voted to double the tax credit for installation of residential solar energy equipment and extend it to cover vacation homes as well.
House leaders downplayed the importance of the vote calling for controls on home heating oil and diesel fuels, noting it was passed by voice vote with few members on the floor.
Caucus Chairman Tom Foley (D-Wash.) hastened to say that the vote was merely "advisory" and does not bind a member to vote that way.
But Rep. Peter Kostmayer (D-Pa.), author of the policy resolution, said, "I think today the congressional wing of the Democratic Party sent a message to the president that they want to restrain the profits on home heating oil."
Kostmayer said he would offer an amendment reimposing controls on home heating oil to a Department of Energy appropriations bill due on the floor soon.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) refused to predict how such a vote might come out.
Kostmayer said heating oil prices were up 60 percent and profits on home heating oil have gone from 9 cents a gallon to 20 cents per gallon. "It's simply not fair for the oil companies to make these kinds of profits at the expense of the average worker," Kostmayer said.
President Ford lifted controls on distillates in 1976. The controlled price was 39 cents a gallon in May 1976. It will be an estimated 81 cents a gallon or higher this fall.
Kostmayer said he would offer an amendment that would seek to fix the profit level, rather than freeze prices. Gasoline profit is fixed at 15.4 cents per gallon, for instance.
But Kostmayer added that he hopes President Carter will act, especially since it appears his request to oil companies to freeze prices will not be agreed to unanimously.
There was little debate on Kostmayer's resolution during the caucus session because Kostmayer moved quickly to a vote when it appeared the session might run out of time.
Earlier this year, the caucus also endorsed reestablishing controls on crude oil, an issue that will also have to be decided when the DOE authorization bill comes to the House floor.
The Senate Energy Committee approved a package on Energy Mobilization Board powers that was close to an administration proposal.
The package would not allow the board to recommend a waiver of federal, state or local laws. But the board could take over decision-making for an agency, if the agency failed to make a decision in time to meet a deadline. The board would follow agency policy in making the decision.
The committee also decided to prevent any future federal, state or local laws from applying to a project that was already approved, as the administration wanted.
It also voted to prevent courtaction on the decision to put a project on the so-called "fast track."
The House Commerce Committee has approved a bill allowing the board to waive federal, state and local laws. Environmentalists and western state delegation oppose the waiver, which they believe would be used to override environmental laws and water pollution control laws. A House Interior bill does not allow the waiver, and the Senate committee action makes it doubtful the waiver law provision will survive the congressional process.
The White House called the action by the Senate Energy Committee "encouraging." White House press secretary Jody Powell said the bill "is very close to the proposals the president sent up and we are happy with it."
Powell also said the White House was pleased with the breakthrough that occurred Tuesday on a gasoline rationing bill. He said Congress "appears well on the way to a good and acceptable bill."