IF THE NATION is serious about expanding domestic energy production, a mobilization board is needed to steer crucial projects on a "fast track" through the regulatory labyrinths. But how much muscle should such a board have? The Senate energy committee's bill, backed by the White House, takes an expansive approach. It would, for instance, let the mobilization board step in to make a decision if a federal, state or local agency missed a deadline. The board could also waive any impeding law or regulation adopted after construction had begun.

The Senate committee's bill goes too far. The case for it rests on some large and untested assumptions: that a number of big projects should be built in a hurry; that most regulatory agencies, especially in the states, will be unsympathetic and intolerably slow, and that mid-course adjustments will be few.

In fact, the Senate is showing more and more reluctance to rush into a huge synfuels program.A number of states, especially in the West, have responded to energy pressures and the threat of federal preemption and are overhauling their own laws. Indeed, delay at the state level is often less a problem than conflicts among federal agencies -- not to speak of Congress' own uncoordinated actions.

All this argues for a more temperate approach that puts some projects on a fast track and lets the mobilization board enforce deadlines in court but nonetheless encourages decision-makers at every level to accept their responsibilities. The Ribicoff-Muskie substitute meets this test. It would create a sensible fast track but not a greased skid. It should be passed.