WHITE HOUSE ACCUSED OF DIVERTING OIL FEES TO REDUCE DEFICIT

WHITE HOUSE ACCUSED OF DIVERTING OIL FEES TO REDUCE DEFICIT

The Bush administration is diverting funds it is collecting that are earmarked for oil pollution cleanup and prevention efforts to reduce the federal deficit, according to the chairman of a House Coast Guard subcommittee.

Rep. W.J. Tauzin, D-La., chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee's subcommittee on Coast Guard and Navigation, called the administration's action "an incredible act of indecency."He made his accusation Thursday during a meeting of the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Offshore Energy Resources, a unit of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee.

The subcommittee heard testimony from an array of government and private witnesses on the Exxon Valdez cleanup and the status of prevention and response efforts a year after the nation's worst oil spill.

Rep. Tauzin noted that a 5-cent-a-barrel fee on oil imports, levied on the oil industry, is already being collected in anticipation of enactment of oil spill response, liability and compensation legislation this year.

"Not one dime has been committed for the purposes we intended," asserted Rep. Tauzin. He said the money could have been used to buy oil skimmers, install vessel traffic systems and upgrade aids to navigation.

Rep. Tauzin explained that administration budget documents indicate it will be "two more years down the road before we spend a nickel to protect the nation's coastline."

He added: "It's a shame and I accuse the administration of violating the spirit and intentof that 5-cent collection."

There was no immediate comment from the White House on the situation.

Rep. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., noted that House and Senate conferees on oil spill legislation still have not hammered out a compromise package that will include authorizations to spend the oil fees. He asked: "Shouldn't we move off the dime?"

Rep. Tauzin agreed that the pace of the spill legislation conference has been slow. But he noted there is already authorization to spend some of the money. He said that even if the conferees completed action on spill legislation immediately, "not a dime will be spent until the end of 1991. That's not acceptable."

On the question of whether the nation is better able to handle a major spill in Alaska now, the hearing indicated the answer is maybe.

C.M. Harrison, executive vice president of Exxon Co. USA, said there are ''significantly better" preparations, in terms of people and equipment, and "I would expect an improved response, but there are no guarantees there won't be oil on the shoreline."

Mr. Harrison said Exxon will be doing additional cleaning in Alaska this summer.

Walt Parker, chairman of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission, said that in terms of things that need to be done to prevent oil spills, a glaring shortcoming is the Coast Guard's lack of authority to close a port.

He cited recent incidents where tankers were operating in conditions ''that were not safe for escort vessels."