One big energy bill made some progress in the House yesterday, but another ran into fresh and formidable resistance in the Senate.
The House took up legislation creating an Energy Mobilization Board amid charges that the White House was working both sides of the street on a key issue -- whether substantive laws should be waived in order to speed completion of energy projects.
In the Senate, an administration-backed bill passed by the Energy Committee to set up an Energy Security Corp., with $20 billion for developing synthetic fuel plants, ran into opposition from an odd-bedfellows coalition of the oil industry, business and environmental groups.
They argued that the proposal was too big, was environmentally and technically questionable, would create another bureaucracy, and -- most important to the oil industry -- would put the government into the energy-producing business competing with the private sector.
The House is dealing with two competing versions of the bill to create an Energy Mobilization Board to cut red tape on energy projects.
One version, by Interior Committee Chairman Morris Udall (D-Ariz.), would set deadlines for government decisions on projects and speed up procedures, but would not allow waivers of existing environmental and other laws.
A Commerce Committee version, managed by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), would allow such waivers, and of state and local laws as well as federal.
Yesterday the House, in accordance with administration wishes and with Dingell's approval, scaled down the Commerce version to allow waivers of only federal laws, and then only when both houses of Congress approve. State and local laws could be waived only if they were enacted after a project is put on the so-called "fast track" for expedited treatment.
The amendment scaling back the Commerce bill was offered by Rep. Jim Santini (D-Nev.) and passed 415 to 1.
A problem is that the admdinistration claims also to support an amendment by Rep. Robert Eckhardt (D-Tex.) to eliminate all waivers of the law.
President Carter has consistently said he is opposed to waiving laws, but Udall and others questioned whether the administration wasn't merely giving lip service to Eckhardt, and in fact lobbying only for Santini. m
An angry Udall, who originated the "fast tract" concept, complained of "shabby treatment" by the administration. At one point he asked on the House floor for "the phone number of the draft-Kennedy headquarters in case some of us want to call it."
Udall said he was being facetious about Kennedy, but he said the administration has a "convoluted position that distresses and disappoints me. It's an attempt to placate the oil industry, John Dingell or somebody,"
It appears that, while Carter has consistently said he opposes waivers, some in the Department of Energy and inside the administration favor them, and the battle either has not been decided or has gone in DOE's direction.
"I think the president made a statement he regrets making," Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said.
Udall said, "The administration is lobbying its head off for an override of federal law."
Indeed, an administration lobbyist was overhead telling a congressman yesterday, "We support Eckhardt, but we'll accept Santini."
The Eckhardt amendment, knocking out all waivers of law, is expected to come up today, as is Udall's alternative to the Commerce bill.
The coalition opposing the Senate's Energy Security Corp. bill included the National Wildlife Federation, the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Club and Democrats and Republicans from the West. It also included Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), chairman of the Banking Committee, which has brought out a scaled-down synthetic fuels bill that many at a press conference said they prefer.
While the groups were united in their opposition to the Senate Energy Committee's bill, they differed in their reasons.
Environmental groups fear the effects of synthetic fuel plants on clean air and water. Western senators, whose states are the most likely sites for synfuel plants, worry that the plants will compete for scarce water and pollute rivers. Business opposes government intervention in energy production.
The Senate Energy Committee bill provides a variety of incentives to build synfuel plants, starting with loan guarantees, price guarantees and cooperative ventures between business and federal government. But if all that fails to attract development, the bill provides for facilities owned and operated by the government (GO-COs).
Herb Schmertz, a vice president of Mobil Oil Co., who spoke on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, said the industry opposed GOCOs. "The cheapest, fastest way for synfuel development is for the private sector to carry it out. We prefer economic incentives, such as tax credits," Schmertz said.
But Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), leader of the fight for the Energy Committee's synfuel corporation, contends that threat of government-run facilities may be the only club to force all companies into the production of synthetic fuel, an expensive and risky venture.
A defeat of the Senate Energy Committee proposal would be a big blow to the administration, which wanted originally to spend $88 billion on synfuels but was talked down by Congress to $20 billion. The Senate will decide which approach to take when both the Banking Committee bill and Energy Committee bill are debated on the floor, probably next week.