The House yesterday passed another major part of President Carter's energy program, voting 299 to 107 to create an energy mobilization board with power to cut red tape on big energy projects.
The main issue was whether to let the board waive local, state and federal laws impeding completion of such projects. The House denied it that power over state and local laws, but said it could waive federal laws when both houses of Congress gave approval.
The president has said he wanted no waivers. Nevertheless, White House lobbyist Bert Carp said yesterday that the administration was "pleased by the action the House took."
The bill now goes to conference with a Senate version that would not allow waivers, and Carp said the administration would work to eliminate the offending House provision there.
A letter from President Carter was read on the House floor yesterday in which he said it opposed allowing the board to set aside federal law, and supported an amendment by Rep. Robert Eckhardt (D-Tex.) forbidding set-asides. But environmentalists said they did not think the administration was sincere.
Had it been so, they said, it would have endorsed a bill by Interior Committee Chairman Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), which would have speeded up government procedures but not allowed any waivers of law. The administration refused to endorse that bill on grounds that the judicial review it allowed could have delayed projects for five years or more.
"The matter was handled by the White House in such a way as to insure a waiver of law," Rafe Pomerance of the Energy Coalition, an umbrella group of environmentalists, said. "They said they didn't want a waiver, but they chose a strategy to guarantee it."
The Udall version of the bill, which was backed by the Governors' Conference, the League of Cities, the U.S Conference of Mayors and other state and local government organizations lost by a 215-to-192 vote.
The Eckhardt amendment to prevent waivers of federal laws was defeated 250 to 153.
Environmental laws dealing with air and water pollution and toxic wastes are those most likely to be set aside.
Udall, who orginated the red-tape cutting concept, voted against passage of the bill because "this bill now constitutes a formula for destroying the laws of the country put together by Congress over the last 20 years."
But Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said the bill should include the option of waiving federal law because of a "regulation-writing bureaucracy promulgating 10,000 regulations . . . [that] have been bogging down the vital efforts of the United States to make itself fuel-efficient." Wright cited an Alaska pipeline that had been slowed down for three years at a cost of $1 billion, and a fight over building a power plant at Storm King mountain in New York that has lasted 14 years.
Rep. Phil Sharp (D-Ind.) said laws have become increasingly complex and that the system has occasionally done "foolish things which have caused a disparagement of law. If we do not allow timeliness in overturning foolishness we ask for increasing disparagement of law."
The bill adopted calls for a five member mobilization board. While Udall's bill limited the projects that could be approved by the board to 75 there is no limit on the projects that could be chosen for the "fast track" in the bill passed by the House.
The board then would set deadlines for federal, local and state agencies to make decisions on approving a project.
The board could make a decision for the agency if it appears the agency would not meet a deadline, but the board's decision would be subject to judicial review.
Major energy facilities such as synthetic fuel projects could be chosen as well as conservation projects or any project promising to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Meanwhile, both the House and Senate passed a one-month extension of a limited antitrust exemption for oil companies, putting aside, for that period at least, legislation restricting the president's power to impose oil import quotas. The Senate had attached such restrictions to its version of the bill.