For the second time in six years the House yesterday refused to create a separate energy committee to permit more systematic treatment of the issue.
By a vote of 282 to 125, the House rejected the idea of creating a new committee. Instead, it voted, 300 to 111, to add a little more energy jurisdiction to the House Commerce Committee, which now has the lion's share, and rename it the committee on energy and commerce.
The proposal to create a new committee was called essential to allow Congress to take a coherent look at energy problems which now are handled by a host of committees piece-by-piece. The chairmen of committees and subcommittees that stood to lose some of their power to a new committee opposed the idea and coalesced behind the winning proposal to give Commerce a little more jurisdiction and a new name, without taking anything from existing committees.
Rep. Jerry Patterson (D-Calif.), chairman of a select committee which had made the energy committee project its major effort for a year, called the House vote "self-serving and damaging to the nation's energy future."
The public issues lobby Common Cause said the vote was a "classic example of why Congress has repeatedly failed to come up with a national energy policy. Members of Congress have shown they are far more concerned about protecting their own political turf than they are in solving the nation's energy crisis."
Each side said the other offered only a cosmetic change without substance. The Patterson committee's proposal to create a new panel would have done little more than convert the Commerce Committee's energy subcommittee into a separate full committee with the probability of adding jurisdiction over "national energy policy" in the future.
There were other fears, that if the bill got to the floor under an open rule all kinds of changes might be made -- such as transferring jurisdiction over nuclear power regulation from the consumer-oriented Interior Committee to a producer-oriented energy committee. So, the committee chairmen lined up behind a proposal by Rep. Jonathan Bingham (D-N.Y.) to leave things pretty much as they are -- except that the Commerce Committee, already the committee with the biggest budget in the House, will get even bigger. Its chairman, Harley Staggers (D-W.Va.) is retiring this year; John Dingell (D-Mich.) is the next Democrat in line.