Shortly after winning the endorsement of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.), a proposal to create a new House energy committee appeared to collapse yesterday while being amended by a Select Committee on Committees.
The blowup came when the select committee adopted an amendment fiercely opposed by environmentalists. That amendment, offered by Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) and adopted by a vote of 8 to 7, would have given the new energy committee jurisdiction over nuclear regulatory matters.
Jurisdiction over nuclear regulatory matters now rests with the Interior Committee, headed by Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.). Such groups as Ralph Nader's organization supported the new committee only on condition nuclear regulatory matters would stay with Interior. Environmentalists fear the new energy committee would be energy-production oriented.
After the Frenzel amendment passed, Committee on Committees Chairman Jerry Patterson (D-Calif.) angrily denounced his own committee, calling it "a turkey."
"There's no way this will fly on the floor," Patterson said. "There's no way this chairman will take it to the floor. We might as well call this committee a committee on nothing."
Patterson sought to adjourn until next year, but other committee members prevailed on him to meet again today. Patterson said this offers "a glimmer of hope" that the vote may be turned around.
The action came just hours after O'Neill had endorsed the idea of forming a new energy committee.
"I'm for it," O'Neill said. "It's in the best interest of the country." But he recalled that an earlier attempt in 1974 to form an energy committee had failed, and added: "It will be tough to get through."
Committee sources said late yesterday afternoon that O'Neill was working to help turn the vote around before today's meeting.
The proposal for a new energy committee was carefully crafted to upset as few existing committees as possible. While it would totally eliminate the present Commerce subcommittee on energy, headed by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), it attempted to leave two other major energy units -- Interior and Science and Technology -- essentially alone. It even gave Interior a little extra by granting it environmental review of energy matters.
However, that was modified by the select committee yesterday to say that environmental laws already passed would stay where they now are. Clean air law jurisdiction, for instance, would stay with the Commerce subcommittee on health.
The select committee also voted to call the proposed new committee the Energy Production and Commercialization Committee.