CONGRESS has been struggling with a bill to take care of everybody in the next oil crisis. But the bill, as it finally passed earlier this month, takes care of hardly anyone except that familiar and well- lubricated special interest, the independent refining industry. President Reagan would be well advised to veto it and tell Congress to try again.
A large and loud element among the independent refiners lives and prospers as a sort of parasite on those large oil companies that have gone to the trouble and expense of developing their own crude oil supplies. In the last two oil shortages, Congress required the big companies to share their oil with those independents that had saved money by refusing to find sources or build reserve stocks of their own. That share-the-wealth requirement expired last fall, along with all the other allocation and price control rules. And that's what Congress now wants to reinstate.
In a truly dire emergency, allocation rules would undoubtedly be necessary. President Reagan has said that he prefers to leave the whole issue to the market, and allow a rising price to balance supply and demand. Up to a point, that's the right policy. Most people, remembering the spring of 1979, would far rather pay more than go through another epidemic of gasoline lines. But there is surely a point somewhere--around $2.50 a gallon, perhaps?--beyond which any president would have to intervene to assure basic supplies for home heating, public services and agriculture. There's a case for reasonable and balanced legislation to anticipate the next oil shortage--but not for the Independent Refiners Welfare Bill that Congress has sent to Mr. Reagan