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Waxman challenge might be a climate change power play

Bob Tippee

A chairmanship challenge at the House Energy and Commerce Committee may be the first step in a power play over climate change.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) confirmed in a Nov. 5 statement that he will seek to become chairman of the committee, now headed by John D. Dingell (D-Mich.).

Waxman is chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a position that has enabled him to exercise his considerable talent for embarrassing witnesses, mostly Republicans.

When the Executive Branch moves into Democratic hands in January, leadership of the oversight panel won't be much fun for a gotchameister.

So it's no surprise that the very liberal and fiercely partisan Waxman is looking for new dragons to slay.

Challenging Dingell, who has held office since 1955, longer than anyone else in the House, is especially brazen.

For the oil and gas industry, the change would mean the difference between mere antagonism and outright hostility.

The motive may be climate change. Supporting this suspicion is a rumor about another power move among House Democrats.

Ed Markey of Massachusetts might challenge Rick Boucher of Virginia for chairmanship of the energy committee's Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee.

Markey is chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, a position that expires in January.

Like Waxman, Markey dislikes oil and gas and supports aggressive measures on global warming.

Dingell and Boucher have in fact been working on global-warming legislation and circulated a draft bill last month.

Environmental groups, however, have criticized them for being lenient with automakers and the coal industry—important constituencies for congressmen from Michigan and Virginia.

If the Markey rumor comes true, the two-front insurgency will look like payback to the environmental groups that supported Democrats in this month's election but that dislike the Dingell-Boucher approach to climate change.

And if the challenges succeed, the only resistance left against the costliest possible response to an uncertain threat will be worry over harm to a slumping economy.

An important question then would be who might remain willing to call a rush to futile sacrifice the folly that it is.

(Online Nov. 7, 2008; author's e-mail:

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