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Reagan energy plan: free market, fewer rules, A-power

The Reagan administration's just-released national energy policy plan represents a clear and potentially controversial shift in federal emphasis. Reducing foreign oil imports is no longer the overriding goal; reliance on free-market decisions -- even during times of emergency -- will receive strong impetus in order to boost domestic energy supplies; government regulations, especially environmental restrictions, are to be relaxed; conservation and development of renewable energy sources will play a smaller role.

Key congressional leaders are wary of what they see in this first comprehensive and definitive statement of administration energy policy. Many environmentalists are even more critical.

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Under law, the White House must submit to Congress a broad national energy plan every two years. This one, made public July 17, contains the following key points:

* The administration expects to concentrade its efforts on boosting domestic oil production through deregulation of the industry and opening new areas for exploration. Still, with energy demand expected to drop off even faster than earlier predicted, domestic oil production is likely to be less than Energy Secretary James B. Edwards previously forecast.

Oil imports dropped 22 percent from 1979 to 1980 and fell another 20 percent during the first six months of this year. Furher reductions are projected, but the United States still is expected to need 4 million to 5 million barrels a day of imported oil by the end of the decade.

"Despite the current oil glut, we are still dangerously dependent on oil supplies from the volatile Persian Gulf," Senate energy subcommittee chairman Charles H. Percy (R) of Illinois said last week. "Another disruption could come at any time, threatening our economy and national security."

Still, the Reagan energy plan puts "primary reliance on market forces to determine the price and allocation of energy supplies, even during an emergency."

* Reagan and other administration officials previously had voiced support for early decontrol of natural gas prices, but now are sidestepping the issue. Under current law, most gas prices will be decontrolled in 1985. Since oil prices (to which new gas prices would be tied) have gone up far more than was anticipated when the Natural Gas Policy Act was passed in 1978, it is felt that full decontrol at this time would be too disruptive.

The administration also perceives "heartening signs" of more natural gas to be found in the US.

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* Deregulation -- easing clean air and water laws in particular -- will be sought to increase domestic coal production.

A new coal export policy includes aiding the construction and improvement of harbor and river facilities, port development, easing strip-mining rules, and opening more public land to coal mining.

* The Reagan administration wants to provide "a more favorable climate" for nuclear power by speeding the power plant licensing process. It says "there is no question" that means of safe waste disposal exist, and wants to proceed with the Clinch River breeder reactor program.

White House bullishness on nuclear power comes just as Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh (R) has asked the federal government to provide $200 million toward the $760 million decontamination cost for Three Mile Island.

* The administration wants to focus any federal efforts on renewable energy sources (including solar power) on long-range research and development rather than helping with direct production and installation.This is a clear change of emphasis from the Carter administr ation.

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