Taking the first step in this year's effort to abolish the embattled synfuels program, the House on Wednesday overturned its Rules Committee and insisted on deciding the quasi-government agency's fate as part of an Interior Department spending measure.
The scenario is a virtual repeat of the political and parliamentary maneuvering that occurred last year when the Reagan administration and Congress reached a compromise cutting $5 billion from the then-$13 billion program.
Synfuels opponents are hoping this year to scuttle the remaining $7.9 billion in subsidies the agency can give to projects for coverting shale and coal into liquid and gas fuels.
""The issue is billions of dollars in taxpayer money that can be saved,'' Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who is spearheading efforts to abolish the program, said Wednesday.
The 251-179 vote Wednesday effectively thwarted efforts by House Majority Leader Jim Wright, D-Texas, and other synfuels supporters to require legislation abolishing the program to first go throughmonths of committee reviews.
""Reducing the nation's budget deficit is the number one priority this year, and today the SFC got caught up in that debate,'' said Tom Corcoran, the agency's vice chairman.
Corcoran, however, said he was ""confident that both the House and the Senate will ultimately continue'' the program.
Congress set up the synthetic fuels agency in 1980 in response to public anger over the nation's continued dependence on imported oil and a tenfold increase in oil prices during the previous decade.
But as oil prices peaked in 1981 and then began dropping, the $60 to $90 per barrel that synthetic fuels cost prompted the majority of private companies with synfuels ventures to lose interest in the technology. …