A proposal to create a new and powerful House energy committee was unveiled yesterday, but initial reaction indicates it will be tough to get it through the House.
Energy jurisdiction is scattered among 83 committees and subcommittees in the House according to Rep. Jerry Patterson (D-Calif.), chairman of the Select Committee on Committees, which will mark up the proposal today.
Patterson said the fragmentation leads to duplication of staff work, duplication of expense and an inability to produce a cohesive energy policy for an energy committee. No doubt about it," Patterson said.
The Senate consolidated its energy jurisdiction into a single panel in a committee revision package adopted about two years ago. A 1974 House effort to do the same thing failed.
The current proposal would create a new standing committee on energy with jurisdiction over production, supply, commercialization and conservation. It would give jurisdiction over environmental aspects of energy matters to the House Interior Committee.
The big loser under the proposal would be the Commerce Committee's subcommittee on energy and power, headed by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), which has dealt with almost all major energy questions.
Dingell calls the new proposal "Unnecessary and costly. I'm unaware of any need to convert our subcommittee into a new committee. I'm unaware of any advantage to the House."
Opposition also developed on Patterson's committee as it began preliminary discussion of the proposal.
Rep. Mick McCormick (D-Wash.) objected to giving the Interior Committee environmental review on the grounds that it might produce environmental restrictions that could hamper the energy production the new committee would be disigned to foster: "It may be too high a price to pay," McCormack said.
Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) argued there would still be overlap, as the Science and Technology panel would keep its control over research and development, causing "every bill to go to three committees." Frenzel also objected to the environmental review by Interior. "it looks like [Interior committee chairman Morris] Udall [D-Ariz.] wrote the bill," he said.
But Patterson said the environmental review was necessary to get political support for the proposal in the House.
Patterson appears to have enough support to get the proposal through his committee, but as competing interests -- both outside and inside the House -- taken sides, a tough fight is likely to develop.
Ralph Nader's organization, for instance, has announced it supports the committee "in principle" but wants nuclear jurisdiction left with Interior and research and development taken from Science and Technology.
Dingell, despite his opposition to the proposed committee, is not ruling out running for its chairmanship, saying he would do a "prudent reconnaisance of his options." Rep. Thomas Ashley (D-Ohio) also is talked about as a candidate. So far the leadership has not taken a position on forming the new committee, though some, among them Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.), have questioned the need for it in the past.