Environmentalists win first round in Waxman-Dingell battle

WASHINGTON — In a major win for environmentalists, a committee of Democratic leaders in the House of Representative voted Wednesday to put Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California in charge of a key panel that will have oversight over global warming issues in the new Congress.

The House Steering Committee voted 25-22 to make Waxman the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, replacing Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell, the most senior member in the House.

The House Democratic caucus will vote Thursday.

The Waxman-Dingell battle has been watched closely on Capitol Hill. Waxman is regarded as an ally of environmentalists, while Dingell has ties to the auto industry. He's resisted higher fuel standards and tighter limits on greenhouse gases. It will be the first major test of whether the party's liberal wing has more clout than its moderate wing.

Dingell had called Waxman an "anti-manufacturing left-wing Democrat" and said that it would be a mistake to have him in charge of the committee, particularly with the auto industry struggling.

The last time the Steering Committee tried to remove a Democrat from the top post on a committee was in 1996, when it rejected Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas as the ranking member of the Banking Committee. The full caucus voted to overturn that decision.

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

In 2002, she supported Dingell's Democratic primary opponent. Last year, she created a special panel to make the case for bigger reductions in greenhouse gases, taking away jurisdiction on global warming legislation from Dingell's Energy Committee.

If Waxman wins Thursday's vote, it means that two Californians will take leading roles in the debate over global warming. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is the head of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.


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