The federal aid program to promote production of synthetic fuels was approved yesterday by the Senate Energy Committee in the form that President Carter has said would be acceptable to him.
But the Senate Finance Committee appeared headed in a different, direction with Carter's proposed windfall profits tax on oil, a direction that would make it more difficult to pump money into the synfuels program.
Meanwhile, the White House announced that it appears its goal of assuring adequate home heating oil supplies next winter has been met. Figures to be reported next week should show that producers have met the target of stockpiling 240 million barrels, officials said. If so, production at normal levels should get the country safely through the winter.
The House, as it began voting on the Energy Department's annual authorization bill, rejected, 135 to 257, an attempt to reimpose some of the price controls on domestic oil that President Carter has ordered phased out.
Supporters of the amendment said higher prices won't produce more oil, while opponents contended they are the only possible way to get more domestic production. But the proposal offered by Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) would have affected less than a quarter of the oil consumed in the United States. That apparently was too little for one side and too much for the other.
The House also rejected, 243 to 124, an amendment aimed at holding down the price of home heating oil by freezing the profit margins of refiners. Opponents said this would not help consumers because it would not control oil distributors' prices.
The Senate Energy Committee's proposal would create an energy security corporation that could pledge or spend $20 billion for loan or price guarantees or, if necessary, for the government to own and operate synfuel plants. The goal is to encourage efforts to make alternative fuels, such as oil from shale, competitive with conventional energy sources, and reduce reliance on foreign oil.
Carter originally wanted to authorize an $88 billion program now for the next decade. But he accepted a Senate suggestion to take a smaller first bite and then, if the program appeared promising, to give it more money later.
Carter had proposed financing the synfuels program from an energy trust fund to be financed by the windfall profits tax paid on oil profits as prices of domestic crude oil are decontrolled. The House voted to put the windfall tax receipts into an energy trust fund, but did not specify how the money would be spent.
Yesterday, Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.), influential chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, proposed that money in the energy trust fund be spent only for energy-related tax credits, mass transit improvements and to help the poor pay the rising costs of energy. The committee did not vote on the proposal, but no opposition was expressed to it.
If approved, that would mean the synfuels program would have to be funded from general revenues. There will be a large increase in general revenues -- $100 billion or more -- during the next decade from corporate income taxes swollen by higher oil prices.
But synfuels would have to compete with every other government program trying to get more money.
If Long's latest proposal passes the Senate, however, a House-Senate conference to settle differences could still agree to make synfuels a beneficiary of the trust fund.
The present version of the windfall profits tax before the Senate Finance Committee would raise $64.8 billion during the next decade, compared with $104 billion raised by the House bill. Long proposed disposing of the receipts this way: $25 billion for the poor, $25 billion in tax credits and $14.8 billion for mass transit.
The Senate Energy Committee bill setting up the synfuel program said nothing about how it would be financed, leaving that to the tax-writing committees. The Energy Committee still has work to do on other parts of the bill dealing with energy conservation.
The Senate Banking Committee has approved a more limited synfuel aid program iwth less money and no authority for the government to own and operate synfuel plants if it can't find private companies to do it. The full Senate will have to choose between them.