OIL IMPORT GUILE

SEN. LLOYD BENTSEN WANTS an oil import fee. That's understandable because he's

from Texas and falling oil prices have hit his constituents hard. As a Democrat and incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he will have much to say about such matters. But he also is keenly aware that President Reagan would veto an oil import fee and that passage of such a measure is doubtful without the president's support. So, Sen. Bentsen instead is mulling what he calls a 50 percent oil dependency bill.

Under this bill the president would be obligated every year to project U.S. oil consumption over a three-year period. If oil imports are projected at more than 50 percent of U.S. consumption in any of those years, the president would be required to reduce imports. What would be the best means of reducing the market share of imported oil? Why an oil import fee, of course.While domestic oil producers would benefit, others would not. An oil import fee would adversely affect heating oil consumers in the Northeast and Midwest; industry throughout the country; and Mexico, Venezuela and other debtor nations dependent on oil exports for foreign exchange. To gain widespread support for an oil import fee, Sen. Bentsen must be willing to offer exemptions. But so many exemptions seem likely as to reduce greatly any prospect of revenues from the fee reducing the budget deficit.

Sen. Bentsen is right to be concerned about rising oil imports, but conservation and the development of alternative sources of energy are better routes to take. Not a fee that benefits oil producers to the detriment of so many others.

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