AMONG ITS other less wordy duties, the executive branch is supposed to deliver to Congress every two years something called a "national energy policy plan." Accordingly, the administration last week released its first official pronouncement under this requirement. It did so with palpable reluctance -- not out of a desire to hide anything, but because of a conviction that the country will be better off without a federal energy policy of the sort contemplated by the mandating law.
In fact, the Reagan national energy policy plan is neither a plan nor a policy, but rather a statement of philosophy. The approach is clear: the best energy policy is the sum of all energy decisions made by all Americans with "a maximum of personal understanding and a minimum of governmental restraints." The federal government's job is to get itself out of the way by leasing as quickly as possible the vast energy resources it owns, and by lifting regulations, reducing subsidies and removing other programs that interfere with a free market.
That is, to be sure, Mr. Reagan's well-known stand. It has to be said, however, that it ignores the national interests in energy that transcend the marketplace, not least the many ways energy use affects national security and foreign policy. But where it primarily breaks down is in the inconsistent application to real energy decisions.
For instance, the document, ignoring its own guidelines, justifies official support for technologies the administration likes and removes them from those it doesn't. It condemns certain government intrusions into the marketplace -- the proposed bank to help finance energy conservation improvements, for instance -- while ignoring others, such as the tax breaks that help finance oil and gas exploration.
The breeder reactor demonstration program, to take another case, is exempted from the requirement that government support be withdrawn from "alternatives that cost more than imported oil now and offer no short-term to mid-term likelihood of being economically competitive."
The administration is surely right in claiming that past plans, with their heavy reliance on detailed projections of energy use and demand, have frequently been out of date almost as soon as they were printed. Still, a roughly consistent energy policy has at least some importance as a basis for private investment, as a guide for government action and for reasons of foreign policy. In all these respects, this effort falls short.