Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks on Signing National Energy Bills

November 09, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. This is a day of great progress for our Nation and of great personal satisfaction to me as President. And I think it's a vindication of our system of democratic government.

Today I'm very proud to sign into law the five essential elements of our national energy program. Today we can rightfully claim that we have a conscious national policy for dealing with the energy problems of the present and also to help us deal with them in the future.

Enacting these five bills, as everyone here knows, has been a difficult and sometimes a painful political process. It's required confidence, dedication, vision, and hard work. But I know of no task which we faced at the outset of my own administration which was more important to the economic health and well-being and, indeed, even the national security of our country.

Events of the past 18 months have underscored the importance of this legislation. A severe natural gas shortage during one of our more severe winters, a crippling and unpredictable coal strike, the severe imbalance of payments in our Nation's trade, a deterioration in the value of the American dollar, and more recently in Iran a threat to a major source of world supplies—each of these problems has either aggravated or portends the aggravation of our domestic inflationary pressures. And each of them has been made worse or would be making them worse in the future without this legislation on the desk before me.

The energy bills that I am about to sign encompass the three major principles that I outlined to the public and to the Congress in April of 1977: first of all, that we must learn to use energy efficiently. We can no longer afford to run our factories, our schools, our homes, our public buildings as though energy were cheap enough and plentiful enough to waste. That's the first principle.

Second, that we must provide adequate incentives and predictability in the Federal Government, its laws and regulations, to encourage additional production of available expendable energy supplies in our own country.

And, third, that we must shift toward more abundant supplies of energy than those that we are presently using at such a great rate, to coal, with which our Nation is blessed, and also, of course, with the renewable supplies of energy, particularly of solar energy itself.

The conservation incentives that are embedded in this legislation are considerable and they are very substantial. They constitute a major step toward a conservation ethic in our country.

I believe that we all know that conservation is the easiest and the cheapest way to either create or to save an additional barrel of oil or a thousand cubic feet of gas or a Btu of energy. Mostly these incentives, as encompassed by the wisdom of the Congress, rely on natural market forces of a free enterprise system to accomplish the purpose. The government regulatory intrusion is minimized, and I hope and believe that with additional experience in the administration of these laws, this trend can be accentuated and made more rapid itself.

The Natural Gas Pricing Act of 1978, one of the bills that I am signing today, will end 30 years of debate over how natural gas should be regulated, how it should be priced. One of the major altercations of President Harry Truman with the Congress was his veto of a bill relating to this same subject. This act will for the first time provide a uniform national market for natural gas, with adequate incentives for producers to increase their production in a sustained and dependable and efficient way, and also to guarantee consumers increased long-range supplies of this valuable source of energy and also with predictable and moderate price increases.

The coal conversion and the energy tax legislation will shift our consumption away from the scarce resources toward those that are more abundant through tax incentives and tax penalties, yes, but also with tax credits for solar and other renewable energy. And they will move us toward a time when our society is no longer so heavily dependent upon finite and rapidly depleting sources of energy.

The promise of solar energy, use of biomass and others has been too long neglected as a major source of supply. And we are cooperating, not only within our own country but with our foreign friends, in the evolution of more efficient ways to use these inexhaustible supplies of energy.

The utility rate reform bill will encourage State regulatory agencies to prescribe electric rates so that there will be a more readily available supply of adequate electrical energy, that rate structures will be oriented toward conservation. And this gives the Department of Energy and interested citizens standing and the ability to intervene in protecting themselves and protecting the Nation's resources.

I would like to say also that overall, these bills, the utility rate reform, energy taxes, energy conservation, coal conversion, natural gas bills which I am signing, will enable us to save by 1985 about 2 1/2 million barrels of oil per day. This is not as great as the original goal in the proposals that we made to Congress, but it's a substantial basis on which we can predicate future achievements in additional conservation of energy.

All of you here today in the audience and standing behind me have earned my deepest respect for your hard work on this bill. I would particularly like to congratulate the leaders of Congress. Tip O'Neill in the House, Bob Byrd in the Senate provided superb leadership when the prospects for success in this effort were very doubtful, when many people gave up hope that our Congress was able to deal with so sensitive, complicated, challenging, and, I would say, politically sacrificial an issue. There are no political benefits to be derived in solving the hundreds of disputes which have now been resolved, but I think a grateful nation will recognize in historical terms the great achievement of these leaders.

The key chairmen of the committees, Harley Staggers, Al Ullman, Lud Ashley, John Dingell in the House, Scoop Jackson, Russell Long in the Senate, have made this success finally possible. And I particularly want to thank the members of the Cabinet, but especially Jim Schlesinger and his fine group, who worked so laboriously and with such tenacity and with such confidence in the face of discouragement to make this success possible.

There are many others outside the Federal Government, some assembled here today. The Governors, the mayors, county officials, business leaders, labor leaders, private citizens, consumer groups, farmers, all rallied here, sometimes in this room, to meet with me personally, to meet at breakfasts and luncheons and suppers and banquets, to look at slide presentations, to listen to the arguments, and then to use their influence in hammering out the details of this legislation.

We also benefited greatly from the direct and indirect aid given to us by our foreign friends, and I would particularly like to recognize the presence here today of representatives of the Federal Republic of Germany, of Great Britain, Italy, of France, of the European Community, Mexico, Canada, all of whom have come today to recognize this achievement.

In closing, let me say that we've acquitted ourselves well as a nation. While the world watched, our people have shown the will and the courage to face this complex problem in a nation which was politically divided because we are one of the world's greatest consumers of energy. We are also one of the world's greatest producers of all kinds of energy. We've been a leader in technological development. We've got tong-range habits evolved that are difficult to change. And we've been so greatly blessed by God with apparently unlimited energy sources that we've not ever acquired the realization until recently that conservation must be an important part of our future lives.

And now with this legislation, we face the continuing challenge of the future with new tools and also with a new resolve. The greatness of our Nation has been proven, and the future greatness of our Nation is more assured than before this legislation was passed.

I would like to thank all of you as I sign the legislation now.

This one that I've just signed is the public utility regulatory policies act; this legislation is the Energy Tax Act of 1978. The next is the National Energy Conservation Policy Act—the men and women around me know how much blood, sweat, and team went into every one of these. [Laughter] This is the Power plant and Industrial Fuel Use Act of 1978.

Dr. Schlesinger has just returned from a visit to the People's Republic of China, to Japan, and he is determined, as am I, to administer this legislation well and, through our administration, to prove the wisdom of the Congress. And of course, as problems evolve or as regulation becomes unnecessary, we will ask the Congress in a sequential and predictable and evolutionary way to modify the bills as required.

This last one is the Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978.

I would like to ask Tip O'Neill to say a word.

SPEAKER O'NEILL. Mr. President, this has to be the biggest crowd that I've ever seen in the swearing in of a bill. [Laughter]

And this crowd truly means that this is one of the most important pieces of legislation to have passed the Congress of the United States, I would say, in a century. Because of the diversity of ideas and because of the parochialness of the problem of energy, we did have a struggle. But with your great leadership, Mr. President, the Congress of the United States enacted this bill. And I think it augurs well for the country, for the democracy for which we stand for, the Congress, and the world itself. So, I congratulate you, Mr. President, on your leadership.

THE PRESIDENT. Congressman Harley Staggers, the chairman.

REPRESENTATIVE STAGGERS. Mr. President, I want to congratulate you and commend you for your leadership. Without your leadership this bill would never have been enacted—I can tell you that-without your persistence and perseverance. So, the country owes a lot to you. I can say that. It's not a perfect bill. I didn't agree with all of it by a long way, but I worked for it, because you said and most of them said it would be good for America. And I think it's the best thing we could get. So, it showed it on our side that it's the best bill that we could possibly get out.

There are so many that need to be commended that I'm just not going to try to do that, but John Dingell did such a great job on our side, and I know that Tip O'Neill was always on top of it on our side; Lud Ashley, completely, all the time, and, of course, the Senators. There were so many of those that were in the conference that were really working hard to get it done. We just hope and pray that it'll be good for America and that we will have synthetic fuels in place to take the place of all other fuels by the time we deregulate gas. [Laughter] Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Someday someone could write a book about the passage of this legislation. One of the most remarkable achievements was the formation of an ad hoc committee in the House by the Speaker and led by Lud Ashley, working very closely with the others assembled around him. And this made it possible to expedite in the House the passage of legislation which might have been blocked even permanently by the diversity of committees that are responsible for the passage of the legislation. This is not because of any defect in the House, but because of the extreme complexity of the legislation: Almost every committee in the House could have had some jurisdiction over this legislation. And I'm very grateful to Tip for his great leadership and for Harley Staggers, who's already spoken. And I'd like to ask Lud Ashley, the leader of the ad hoc committee, to make a comment.

REPRESENTATIVE ASHLEY. Well, thank you, Mr. President. I've got to be very candid with you. I hope you never send us a legislative package like the number you did on us last April. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. You've got my promise. [Laughter]

REPRESENTATIVE ASHLEY. But if you find it necessary, Mr. President, I hope that I'll be able to play a part in the efforts as I have this time.

You're quite right that whenever you have a bill over which has been said the last rites as many times as this one, so many close votes, why, there are a number of people, most of whom are in this room, who claim credit—for example, the 207-to-206 vote. [Laughter] And since most of them are in the room, I'd like to say thanks to whoever it was. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. We had a lot of people saying last rites, but nobody ever gave the benediction. [Laughter]

John Dingell is one who held the negotiations together on many of those occasions when Lud Ashley pointed out that the benediction was about to be said. And he's been a stalwart leader, one involved in this fight for many years. And I think that John, along with myself and everyone here, has learned a great deal in the process, has had to modify previous positions taken, but has believed in the future of our country adequately enough to retain the true measure of leadership. And I'd like to ask John Dingell if he would say a word.

REPRESENTATIVE DINGELL. Thank you, Mr. President. I feel about this about like I do about the elections—I'm glad they're over. [Laughter]

Mr. President, you've given great leadership, and we're proud of it. I don't think anything here can be said without mention of what Tip O'Neill and Harley Staggers and Lud Ashley and my friends and colleagues in the Senate and Jim Schlesinger did. It was an enormously difficult undertaking. I don't believe we've ever seen a larger pile of legislation signed at one time, embodying one piece of legislation. The complexity, the difficulty, and the bitterness and trouble that surrounded this legislation exceeds anything I've ever seen. But it has been accomplished. It is a good piece of legislation. And it is going to start moving the country forward.

Mr. President, I should advise that we look forward to working with you next year, and I should advise that the staff is at this moment looking into the successor of this legislation—hopefully in single pieces. [Laughter] Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. I came back from my western trip, and there was an almost unanimous belief in the Congress and among the news media that the natural gas legislation was dead. And it was the superb leadership of Bob Byrd, who, in effect, resurrected this legislation and led it in the Senate to be passed. With his usual modesty he's asked that I not call on him for a statement, but I'd like to make the statement for him. And I'd like for us now to recognize the great leadership that he showed in this.

Another man who played a great leadership role in the Senate, not quite so reticent about making a statement— [laughter] —is my good friend, Wendell Ford. And I'd like for him to speak for the Members of the Senate who worked so strongly and so effectively on this important legislation.


SENATOR FORD. I thank you, Mr. President. Being reticent is not true. Bob Byrd said, "You will speak." [Laughter] And I have recognized leadership the last 4 years I've been in the Senate. Bob Byrd has given me the leadership I think I needed whenever I needed it. I think everyone in this room understands that. [Laughter]

Mr. President, I too, along with the others, wish to compliment you for the character that you displayed when you said to the Congress and to this country that we need energy legislation, no longer could we solve our energy problems with wishful thinking.

And I want to say that at no time was I disappointed with the effort and the work that was done by the administration. I think a group of men that only a few have been recognized, but I'd like to recognize them as a total, the conference committee. You know, you have to work with people to really understand their true character. And I was impressed with the desire, uppermost in the minds and hearts of every member of that conference committee, that this country would be strong through this energy bill. And so, I compliment them, Mr. President. I think you would, too, on the basis that this country comes first, regardless of their personal feelings.

And so, as we look to a new Congress, the ability to work together, find the rough edges in what we've done to polish this piece of legislation, I believe this country will recognize even though they call it a stack here—I love it a little more than that, because I do have some blood in it—but I do believe that this will be a singular moment in the history of this country. As we say to the rest of the world, the free market system will work, and we're going to get to it.

I thank you for the opportunity to be here today.


Bob Byrd has finally agreed to say a word. Thank you. [Laughter]

SENATOR BYRD. Mr. President, someone has said "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid." You're the first President who has sent to the Congress a comprehensive national energy policy proposal. It is a subject that has been around a long time. It is one of the most divisive, controversial, emotional, longstanding issues that we have had to confront the Congress in many years.

As you pointed out, Mr. Truman vetoed a bill, and so did Mr. Eisenhower, that dealt with natural gas pricing or deregulation in one form or another. So, this has been the toughest of all the issues as far as I am concerned that I have ever seen come before the Senate. And I want to congratulate you as President of the United States for having the courage and the vision and the stick-to-it-iveness to propose and to see this legislation through to its fruition.

I also want to congratulate Speaker O'Neill and the Members of the House who worked so effectively and diligently to make this day possible.

When I was in Europe in July at your request, the foremost questions on the minds of Mr. Callaghan, the Prime Minister of England, Chancellor Schmidt of Germany, and the leaders of Belgium, dealt with energy. And they wanted to know when the United States was going to do something about its energy problem and whether or not it had the discipline, the self-discipline and the willpower to do that. And I assured those leaders that the Congress, much to their surprise, had not buried the legislation, was going to enact the legislation, and was going to put the package on your desk before we adjourned. They had heard quite to the contrary.

And I think that that assurance helped in the forthcoming Bonn Summit, which you attended, because they saw from the congressional perspective that the legislation was not dead—and of course, repeatedly the tombstones had been erected over this legislation. Never was I once in doubt. And I assured those leaders we were going to do it. We did it, and so, today it's with particular gratification to my heart that that word has been kept.

Now finally, I want to say that the men on my side of the aisle—Henry Jackson, Russell Long, Wendell Ford, all of the other Senators who participated in committee, in the floor debate, and in conference—did a magnificent job, and I personally am in their debt, as I feel that the Senate is and as I feel that the country is.

Dr. Schlesinger, Frank Moore, Dan Tate, Bob Thompson, the other people on your staff worked very closely with the leadership in both Houses, and I think that to all of them and to you great credit is due. And finally, to our Nation I think this is a great day.

There's a statue in Atlanta, Georgia, on which there is the inscription, as you should know. It's erected to the memory of Benjamin Hill, and that inscription is as follows:

"Who saves his country saves all things, saves himself, and who lets his country die lets all things die, dies himself ignobly, and all things dying curse him."

The Congress of the United States, working with the President, has not let the country die, but has worked to save our country.

THE PRESIDENT. Just one more brief comment. There have been comments made about courage and vision. There was also a good bit of ignorance involved. And this spring and summer I began to see very clearly why my predecessors had never proposed to the Congress a comprehensive energy bill. [Laughter] And everyone deserves a lot of credit. But I would like to ask to make the closing comment Jim Schlesinger, who was the guiding light in the evolution of the original proposal, who was involved in every discussion in the Congress, who was involved in the hammering out of compromises, and of course on whose shoulders will now fall the responsibility of implementing the legislation and also administering the Department of Energy and perhaps in the future proposing the modifications to the legislation as we achieve progress in our country in the future.

I'd like to recognize and to thank, I'm sure on behalf of everyone here, Jim Schlesinger and ask him to make a closing comment.

SECRETARY SCHLESINGER. Thank you, Mr. President.

It is now 18 months or more since you signed the letter of transmittal in the Rose Garden. Those of us who have worked on the national energy act thought for a while that we were taking on a lifetime calling— [laughter] —that like the Council of Trent, the natural gas conference might go on forever. [Laughter]

We have come, as we sinologists say, to the end of a long march. And we have come to the end of that march because of the leaders assembled here and to Senator Jackson, Senator Long, Chairman Ullman, others who could not be here. We are grateful to all of them, Mr. President; to you in particular for your tenacity in staying with this legislation.

Two points, Mr. President: First, it is the most massive legislative package ever to come out of the Congress. It is a good beginning, as you indicated, but we have received here about 60 to 65 percent of the savings in oil in 1985 that you originally suggested. And we will have to do better. There may be additional legislation for John Dingell and others to think about.

At a time where a single country in the Middle East in turmoil can cause difficulties for the entire industrial world, potential trouble, we shall have to do better.

Secondly, Mr. President, we have the problem of implementation. The FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission], under Charlie Curtis, is working diligently with industry, with outside groups to see to it that the natural gas legislation acquired in pain will work.

Mr. President, next week we will publish our coal regulations. There are many who have said that the coal conversion bill has been emasculated. They will be proved wrong, Mr. President. [Laughter] Within a few weeks the very commentators who suggest that will be talking about the excessive authority that has been given to the Federal Government [laughter] —in that coal conversion legislation.

Once again, Mr. President, thank you for staying with this legislation.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Jim.

I might point out that none of these men who worked so hard on the legislation was defeated Tuesday, which is a good sign for the future.

And I would like to emphasize that this was a bipartisan effort. There was a very strong nonpartisan or bipartisan commitment to passing this legislation. I want to express on behalf of the entire Nation my thanks, not only to the Democratic leaders but also to the Republican leaders of the Congress who made this possible.

Note: The President spoke at 9:07 a.m. at the ceremony in the East Room at the White House.

As enacted, the bills, approved November 9, are as follows:

H.R. 4018, Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978—Public Law 95-617;

H.R. 5263, Energy Tax Act of 1978—Public Law 95-618;

H.R. 5037, National Energy Conservation Policy Act—Public Law 95-619;

H.R. 5146, Power plant and Industrial Fuel Use Act of 1978—Public Law 95-620;

H.R. 5289, Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978—Public Law 95-621.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Signing National Energy Bills Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243989

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