A decision by House Republican leaders to kill a special committee set up by outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi not only will save taxpayers $2 million per year, Republicans say, but also will deny Democrats a key bully pulpit for advancing their environmental agenda.
But Democrats and committee supporters say the move is a major step back in fighting a serious threat affecting the country and the world, and that the panel was well worth the money.
House Republicans said the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which debuted in 2007 soon after Democrats had taken control of the chamber, was redundant with the House committees on Natural Resources, and Energy and Commerce, and was a classic example of government waste.
And because the committee only had "select" status and didn't have the authority to move legislation — its primary function being to hold hearings — critics said the panel essentially was toothless.
"Republicans are making every effort to root out waste in Congress and save scarce taxpayer dollars," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and the presumed next speaker. "It is duplicative and unnecessary."
The committee officially was designed to investigate ways to wean the country off fossil fuels and to help deal with climate-change issues. The panel also served as a Democratic conduit to promote one of Mrs. Pelosi's signature legislative initiatives; namely, a "cap and trade" bill intended to reduce fossil-fuel use and curb carbon emissions.
"The Select Committee on Global Warming was created by Democrats simply to provide political cover to pass their job-killing national energy tax," said Mr. Smith, who said the panel cost $2 million annually to run.
But Democrats say House Republicans — who, as the incoming majority party had the authority to ax the panel — are being dangerously shortsighted by ignoring problems regarding the nation's dependence on foreign oil and the climate-change issue.
"Disbanding the select committee does not diminish the urgent need to act on these very critical issues," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said.
Democrats dismiss Republican accusations that the committee was irrelevant, saying that since its creation — and subsequent influence — the House passed laws to increase vehicle fuel efficiency for the first time in more than 30 years and sweeping climate-change legislation.
Democrats add that the panel played an important role in holding BP accountable after one of the oil company's Gulf of Mexico rigs exploded last spring, ensuring that the public had access to all pertinent information about the resulting oil spill and cleanup.
However, the cap-and-trade bill touted by Democrats has stalled indefinitely in the Senate, a major legislative defeat for Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.
Still, many environmentalists and energy experts say the committee, under the leadership of its chairman, Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, played an important role in educating legislators, the media and the public about many energy challenges.
"We're one of the only countries of the world where leading government officials deny settled science," said Daniel J. Weiss, a climate specialist with the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "There couldn't be a more important time to have a select committee on energy independence and global warming."
Panel supporters say they worry that the dozens of new "tea-party"-supported conservatives in the House will further push the House away from addressing energy and climate issues.
"Unfortunately, many of the new members elected to the House have expressed opinions ranging from skepticism to outright denial about the facts regarding climate change," Dan Lashof, director of the climate center at the National Resources Defense Council, said in an interview last week with CBS News. "As more senior members jockey for positions to be committee chairmen, they're suggesting a highly obstructionist agenda."
Even the committee's top Republican, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin - who was in line to become its chairman in the new Congress - expressed regret over the panel's demise.
"While I was initially skeptical of the select committee's mission, it ultimately provided a forum for bipartisan debate and an opportunity for House Republicans to share a different view on the pressing energy and environment issues that we currently face," said Mr. Sensenbrenner during the panel's final hearing Wednesday.
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