House Senate conferees broke a four-month stalemate yesterday and gave President Carter a welcome victory by agreeing on a bill to create an energy mobilization board to cut red tape and get new energy-producing programs off to a fast start.
Meanwhile, the House Commerce Committee approved the Department of Energy's authorization bill for next year and left in it subcommittee language designed to prevent Carter's fee on imported oil from going into effect next month. The White House had threatened to veto the bill if the provision remains in it.
The fast track bill is the second of three major energy proposals Carter made last summer to work its way through conference. The tax on domestic crude oil to drain off part of the profits from decontrol of oil prices has been signed into law. Conferees have approved the basic thrust of the third bill, sitting up a government agency with $20 billin to spend to encourage production of alternative or synthetic fuels, but are still working on a mass of detail added by the Senate.
The five-member energy mobilization board could decide which projects should be put on a fast track and then set deadlines and take othe action to assure prompt action by federal, state and local agencies whose approval is needed.
The conferees have been hung up on the question of whether to permit waiver of substantive laws -- such as clean air and water laws -- that get in the way of energy projects.
The compromise approved yesterday provides that federal laws may be waived at the request of the mobilization board only with the approval of the president and both houses of Congress. The House broke the stalemate by agreeing in addition that committees having jurisdiction over laws to be waived could bottle up a waiver proposal and not let it go to the floor of House or Senate for a vote. Only 12 requests for waivers could be made during the two-year life of a Congress.
Senate conferees accepted the House proposal with a 9-to-8 that broke their long opposition to any waiver provision. It probably would have failed in a tie vote had Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) been present or left his proxy. He was reportedly on a plane, going to make a speech.
House conferees accepted the final product by a vote of 12 to 5. But there were some bitter final comments about what opponents perceived to be a failure to follow through by the president on his stated opposition to any waiver provision. Rep. Bob Eckhardt (D-Tex.), said he felt betrayed by lack of White House help. Both he and Rep. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) said they tried repeatedly without success to reach Carter to ask help in defeating any waiver language.
The anti-oil-import fee provision says that none of the funds authorized for DOE could be used to administer the program, which would add 10 cents a gallon to the price of gasoline. Asked why he didn't try to knock it out in the full committee, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), manager of the bill, said: "I don't like to lose."