Rivalry breaks out over Congress' top energy spot

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 10, 2008 

WASHINGTON — In the first big post-election clash on Capitol Hill, two House heavyweights are battling to lead an influential committee that will have jurisdiction over global warming in the new Congress.

The fight pits California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, a key ally of environmentalists, against Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, who has ties to the auto industry. Waxman is trying to oust Dingell as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

While Waxman supporters say they think they've got enough votes to prevail, Dingell is fighting hard to keep the position.

In an interview with WJR radio, he called Waxman an "anti-manufacturing left-wing Democrat" and said it would be a mistake to have him in charge, particularly with the auto industry struggling.

If Waxman is successful in his attempted coup, it means that two Californians would take leading roles in the contentious debate over global warming. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is the head of the Senate's environmental committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.

The 82-year-old Dingell, the most senior member of the House, has long resisted higher fuel standards and tighter limits on greenhouse gases.

A vote is expected next week, when House Democrats elect their leaders for the new Congress, which will convene in January. It will be the first major test of whether the party's liberal wing, represented by Waxman, has more clout than the party's moderate wing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is thought to be closer to Waxman, 69. She has clashed with Dingell in the past, but she's remaining neutral in this fight, at least publicly.

The committee is expected to be highly visible next year, with President-elect Barack Obama promising to make energy issues a top priority.

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