To the delight of many environmental groups across the country, California Democrat Henry Waxman has ousted fellow Democrat John Dingell of Michigan from his post as chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The 255-member House Democratic conference voted 137 to 122 Thursday to replace Rep. Dingell, a close ally of the auto industry, with Waxman, a longtime champion of environmental causes. The vote places Waxman in charge of a panel with one of the broadest jurisdictions of any congressional committee, responsible for legislative oversight relating to consumer protection, food and drug safety, air quality, energy supply and transmission, telecommunications, and a host of other matters relating to interstate and foreign commerce.
Environmentalists are praising the outcome, which was unusual in that it defied Congress's seniority system. Dingell, the House's longest-serving member, assumed office in 1955 and has chaired the energy committee for 28 years.
"Waxman’s victory is a breath of fresh air – of clean air," wrote Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental advocacy group. "It was a stunning defeat for the corporate lobbyists on K Street."
"This is huge for those who’ll want strong action on both climate change and clean energy and energy independence (and health care)" wrote Joseph Romm, a former Clinton energy adviser and a blogger for the Center for American Progress, a think tank headed by John Podesta, Bill Clinton's former chief-of-staff. "Heck, it’s the second best piece of news on global warming this month!"
The National Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group, chose their words carefully, praising both Waxman's and Dingell's environmental contributions:
Chairman Waxman has been a leader on global warming for many years, and we look forward to working closely with him in this new role. Our nation faces many challenges, including the climate crisis, and Congressman Waxman understands that we can’t delay in taking on these issues. After many years of working with Congressman Dingell on toxics, endangered species, and EPA-related issues, we recognize his important contributions. We will continue to work with him and others in Congress on our nation’s most pressing environmental, energy and global warming challenges.