Donald P. Hodel, who three weeks ago was appointed the nation's fourth secretary of energy, said at his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday he felt Congress should not attempt to deal with soaring natural gas prices during the current lame-duck session.
Hodel said the Reagan administration hoped to present its long-promised plan for faster deregulation of natural gas "early" in the next Congress, and said he "would much prefer" to see the issue dealt with on that kind of a broad basis.
"I do believe we would have lower gas prices than we have today if we did not have all these regulations," Hodel said.
Sworn in three weeks ago without confirmation because his appointment to succeed former energy secretary James B. Edwards came while Congress was not in session, Hodel clearly made a far more favorable impression than his predecessor on members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
While paying lip service to the Reagan administration's goal of dismantling the Energy Department and merging it into the Commerce Department, Hodel assured the lawmakers "that is not my principal mission.
"We have to deal with energy isues that take a higher priority than merger," Hodel said. "It is not my primary motivation. I think it also may be academic at this stage. I recognize it is not the most active legislative proposal before Congress."
Hodel also promised the lawmakers that in reviewing the fiscal 1983 Energy Department budget and in completing preparation of the fiscal 1984 budget, he intended to take into account congressional opposition to administration attempts to cut back federal efforts in the areas of solar and renewable energy and conservation.
"It is my desire to take a good hard look at the disparity between what the administration has been recommending and what Congress wants to do," Hodel said. "It is not over the long haul constructive to be operating in that kind of confrontational mode."
At the same time, however, Hodel made it clear he strongly backed such controversial aspects of the Reagan administration's energy program as the Clinch River Breeder Reactor and reprocessing plutonium from spent fuel.
Hodel came in for particularly sharp questioning on Clinch River from Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), who suggested that the Reagan administration seemed to be putting all its energy eggs "not just in a basket marked nuclear, but marked breeder reactor nuclear."
But despite sharp criticism from environmental groups later in the day of Hodel's record the past two years as Interior undersecretary, and in the 1970s as administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, he appeared to have the support of most members of the committee.
It seemed likely the panel will recommend approval of his nomination to the full Senate next week.