The Senate yesterday handed the administration a solid victory on the first major part of President Carter's energy package to reach the Senate floor.
The bill, to create an energy mobilization board to cut red tape on selected large energy projects, would give the board the power to make a decision for an agency if that agency did not act within a proposed two-year period. It also would give the board power to waive state and local laws that might affect any project approved by the board.
Environmentalists and state and local government groups opposed these provisions on the grounds that they would trample on the rights of local governments and be used to overturn environmental laws.
But by a 58 to 39 vote, the Senate rejected a substitute measure by Sens. Abraham A. Ribocoff (D-Conn.) and Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) that would have knocked out these provisions.
Telephone calls by Carter and lobbying -- by the energy industry were used by the White House as they worked hard to defeat the Muskie-Ribicoff substitute.
After the vote, the administration then agreed to compromise with Muskie and Ribicoff on one of the major provisions, the waiver of state and local laws.
Muskie had claimed that if laws could be waived it would be impossible to stop any project that was found to be poisoning people or the environment chemically.
Muskie said the government would be "literally and dangerously helpless."
Under the compromise worked out with Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), the floor leader of the bill, the secretary of the interior or the director of the Environmental Protection Agency could veto any board decision to waive a state or local law.
Then, either the waiver or the veto of a waiver could be appealed to a court. The Senate accepted the compromise by voice vote.
Sen. Peter V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said the senate's action in rejecting the Muskie-Ribicoff substitute "clearly indicates the Senate is ready to make some major energy decisions."
Sen. Henry B. Jackson (D-Wash.) said that while "the environment and states rights have dominated this debate . . . many of us seem to have forgotten it is our future . . . is at stake."
Jackson argued that the country was vulnerable to foreign blackmail by Middle Eastern oil-producing nations and that weakening of the bill would send a signal that the United States did not intend to take any serious action to reduce its dependency on imported oil.
After the compromise, however, Muskie continued to press to knock out the other provision, allowing the board to take over the decision-making powers of other agencies if they did not meet the decision-making deadlines.
But his effort failed, 60 to 34.
Sen. Walter D. Huddleston (D-Ky.) offered an amendment to allow the board to waive only federal laws, but lost, 56 to 37.
Action on the bill is to continue today.