In what is seen as a potential blow to energy interests, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) unseated longtime rival Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) last Thursday for the leadership of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee in a 137-122 vote of the House Democratic Caucus. Dingell has been the ranking Democrat on the House energy panel since 1981.
"The House just traded blue collar for Beverly Hills," said a legislative expert close to the natural gas industry. "From an energy perspective, [the changing of the guard] is not good. A centrist approach to energy policy has been replaced with a left-leaning approach. It probably will make it more difficult to pass major legislation through the committee because the committee will become more polarized."
The secret vote by all of the House Democrats in the incoming 111th Congress followed spirited debate among members. "It was like Zeus and Thor in there, hurling lightning bolts at each other. You just wanted to duck and get out of the way," said Waxman supporter Rep. George Miller (D-CA), as reported by CQ Today.
The Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over energy, health care and telecommunications. Waxman has two decades less experience in the House than Dingell, who is a 53-year veteran of the House.
"A Waxman win changes the character of House Democrats' views toward coal and cars, the two principal sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. economy," wrote analysts at FBR Capital Markets. "While the oil industry has few natural defenders left on Capitol Hill as a result of industry consolidations, retirements of senior lawmakers and the change in party leadership, coal retains a 'stronghold' among Senate Democrats."
Of note to natural gas producers active in unconventional plays, such as the Barnett Shale of Texas, and in coalbed methane, Waxman has been a vocal opponent of hydraulic fracturing techniques used to stimulate low-permeability reservoirs. Waxman criticized a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempted hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (see NGI, Nov. 5).
Waxman also has challenged the Environmental Protection Agency over air quality offsets related to a proposed California liquefied natural gas terminal (see NGI, Jan. 29, 2007). And he has been a vocal critic of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS), suggesting that MMS "may actually be collaborating with industry to discourage auditors from collecting royalties" (see NGI, Sept. 18, 2006). Almost two years to the date of Waxman's remark, a Government Accountability Office report said MMS and the Bureau of Land Management had fallen short of properly measuring oil and gas production for royalty-collection purposes (see NGI, Sept. 22).
FBR noted that while Dingell has proposed moderate measures to combat climate change, Waxman "and many other California Democrats" have pushed for stricter cuts on emissions. "Chairman-elect Waxman could replace Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA), an outspoken advocate of coal, with Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), current chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming," the FBR analysts noted.
Dingell, 82, narrowly lost a vote in the Democratic Steering Committee last Wednesday. That vote was 25-22. Dingell supporters had been confident going into last Thursday's vote. "I was pleasantly surprised" at how well Dingell did, particularly given that the makeup of the steering committee in terms of geographic regions and political leanings was not in favor of Dingell, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), co-chair of the whip team that was seeking to fend off 69-year-old Waxman's challenge, said following last Wednesday's vote. The steering committee does not reflect the "same dynamics as our whole caucus," said Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT).
However, the confidence of Dingell supporters proved to be misplaced as members favored the more liberal Waxman, despite concerns among some members that a Waxman victory could upset the seniority system and cause acrimony in the chamber. In his pursuit of the post, Waxman adopted the theme of "change," which helped sweep President-elect Obama to the White House and led the Democrats to pick up seats in the House and Senate earlier this month.
"Well, this was clearly a change year, and I congratulate my colleague Henry Waxman on his success today," Dingell said. "I will work closely with him on the issues facing the Energy and Commerce Committee and for a smooth transition.
"What will not change, however, and what will never change, is my commitment to the working men and women of the 15th Congressional District of Michigan who have honored me with the opportunity to represent them here in Washington. That commitment -- to protecting and creating jobs, to providing health care for all Americans, to working to getting our state and nation's economy back on track -- is a fight I will continue to wage in Washington."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) praised Dingell for his nearly three decades of Democratic leadership on the committee and promised good things to come under the leadership of Waxman.
"Henry Waxman will bring to the post of chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee the outstanding leadership he has demonstrated as chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform," she said. "He has been a longtime leader on health care, drug safety and affordability, and climate change. Under his leadership, the committee and the entire caucus will make progress toward making America energy independent, making health care available to all Americans, and addressing the greatest challenge of our time, global warming."
Dingell's retention of the committee leadership had been seen as crucial for the U.S. auto industry as automakers seek emergency aid from Congress. Dingell has been a powerful advocate for his state's automakers. Sources said that even though the new alignment does not become effective until Jan. 20, any auto industry legislation advanced by the lame duck committee would have to include deal-making, i.e, emissions restraints, with an eye to the future leadership.
Pelosi did not publicly support either lawmaker but was believed to be behind Waxman's pursuit of the post. There has been a history of feuding between Dingell and Pelosi -- she stripped him of authority over global warming issues last year.
Waxman, chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, launched his bid for chairmanship of the House energy panel the day after the elections (see NGI, Nov. 10). "We will need the very best leadership in Congress and our committees to succeed. That is why after long thought I have decided to seek the chairmanship of the Committee on Energy and Commerce," Waxman said at the time.
Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report
may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any
form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.