The Energy Department official in charge of recovering billions of dollars in oil overcharges resigned after Secretary John S. Herrington rejected a proposal to double the amounts of claims against drillers and refiners.
Rayburn Hanzlik resigned Thursday as head of the Economic Regulatory Administration. The agency is devoted primarily to settling more than $6 billion in overcharge claims against oil companies when petroleum was under federal price controls from 1973 to 1981.
Jane Register, an aide to Hanzlik, said Friday that the resignation was submitted to President Reagan following a "chat" between Herrington and Hanzlik.
"They both agreed it was a good time to leave," Register said. She said Hanzlik, 47, had expressed a desire for the past two years to return to a law practice in Los Angeles.
Earlier this month Herrington turned down a proposal by officials in Hanzlik's office to seek larger refunds from oil companies for overpricing schemes in the 1970s.
Eight days after taking office in January 1981, Reagan abolished the federal price controls on oil and petroleum products established by then-President Richard M. Nixon eight years earlier.
Herrington, addressing an oil industry group in Dallas recently, described Hanzlik's agency as "in the business of allocating misery during shortages."
"Last week a proposal came across my desk by DOE lawyers proposing to double the amount of claims using a unique, new and different revolutionary legal theory of recovery," Herrington told the group.
"This is 12 years after the initial legislation, mind you, at a time I'm trying to end this program," he said. "You can't blame them for being inventive, but this is 1985."
Hanzlik was out of town and could not be reached Friday. Officials in his office have refused to comment on Herrington's remarks or disclose details about the recovery proposal.
Over the past four years, the government has collected some $1.8 billion through suits and settlements with 916 oil and refining companies. The amount does not include court judgments of $2 billion against the Exxon Corp. and $1.2 billion against some Midwest oil producers; both cases have been appealed.
The government has cases pending against more than 460 producers and refiners, including 150 cases in federal courts.
Hanzlik had been criticized by some members of Congress for reaching settlements with some oil companies instead of pursuing cases against them. When he took office in 1981, Hanzlik said he hoped that he could put his agency out of business by October 1982.