The House voted yesterday to halt the sale of the nation's weather, land, or ocean satellites to private companies without specific congressional approval.
A similarly worded amendment recently cleared the Senate Commerce Committee and is expected to pass easily on the Senate floor as well.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on March 8 that President Reagan had decided to sell the land, weather, and any future ocean-sensing satellites. But several members of Congress expressed surprise at the announcement, saying they had not been consulted or briefed on the administration's new policy.
Legislators have been concerned that the sale of the weather satellites could jeopardize the quality of national forecasting, might create a government-subsidized private weather monopoly, and might create trouble internationally, since weather data has for more than a century been collected by world governments and shared freely.
The action yesterday prohibits sale of the satellites unless the administration first submits to Congress a comprehensive statement of policies, procedures, conditions and limitations on the sale. Then, Congress must pass a law approving the sale on congressional terms if it is to go forward.
The House action came on a voice vote, when the satellite measure was attached as an amendment to the budget authorization of NASA.
It originated in the House Science and Technology Committee with an amendment from Rep. Herbert H. Bateman (R-Va.), whose district could lose a satellite station if the sale goes through.
An aide to Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.) said that those who pushed the amendment through the committee hoped that the administration would draft legislation before seeking proposals from private companies.
The legislation, the members hope, will make explicit precisely what would be sold and what the purchasing company would be required to do to keep up the quantity and quality of satellite data, and under what conditions a sale would be refused.
The administration has said it will seek legislation, but has not said what form it would take.
Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige in testimony before the natural resources subcommittee two weeks ago said that the administration had no intention of selling the satellites unless the bidding firms could show that they would maintain quality data, and satisfy national security and other concerns.
He said the government would buy weather data from the company and distribute it in the United States and abroad much as it does now.
The only company that has so far proposed to buy the land and weather satellites is the Communications Satellite Corp. (Comsat), which has been lobbying the government for some two years to make the deal.
The NASA authorization bill passed yesterday amounted to $6.8 billion, up 6 percent from the current year, and $161 million more than the administration had proposed for NASA.