- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

Lawmakers say Rep. Henry A. Waxman’s successful bid to unseat a long-serving incumbent chairman Thursday morning is part of a broader “sea change” which will make it easier to adopt environmental reforms.

House Democrats voted narrowly to replace Michigan Democrat John D. Dingell, the longest-serving active member of the House, as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with Mr. Waxman, who was viewed as the more liberal choice, during a closed-door meeting Thursday.

“The argument that we made is for a committee to have the leadership that will work with this administration and members of both the House and the Senate in order to get important issues passed in health care, environmental policy and energy policy,” Mr. Waxman of California said shortly after his win Thursday morning.

“We are at a unique moment in history; we have an opportunity that comes only once a generation,” he said.

Mr. Waxman’s supporters, and pro-environmental reform lawmakers, say Mr. Waxman’s success is part of a broader shift among the electorate and lawmakers to support environmental and energy reforms which had stalled for the past eight years.

“What happened over in the House, it was a sea change,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is one of Mr. Waxman’s colleagues from California.

“We are gaining allies here,” said Mrs. Boxer, also referencing the large Democratic gains in the U.S. Senate and President-elect Barack Obama’s win earlier this month.

Mr. Waxman’s win, by a narrow vote of 137 to 122, marks the end of weeks of behind-the-scenes lobbying.

Incumbent chairmen are rarely unseated - and the backroom battle between Mr. Dingell, who hails from a blue-collar district in Michigan with strong ties to the auto industry, and Mr. Waxman, who represents Hollywood, garnered a lot of attention from interest groups concerned with environmental and energy issues.

“Well, this was clearly a change year, and I congratulate my colleague Henry Waxman on his success today,” Mr. Dingell said in a statement. “I will work closely with him on the issues facing the Energy and Commerce Committee and for a smooth transition.”

Some Republican senators were more circumspect of the “sea change” happening throughout the Capitol.

Democrats “are going to have a very strong majority here,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican. “Depending on how they want to approach things, if they want to approach them in a bipartisan way they can get a lot done. And I suppose if they’re going to run things through on a partisan basis, they may be able to do that also.”

House Republican leaders quickly chastised their Democratic colleagues for unseating Mr. Dingell, calling it a blow to long-standing House traditions.

Meanwhile, business, energy and environmental groups who are all likely to lobby Mr. Waxman’s new committee in the upcoming session, were laudatory of his selection.

Mr. Dingell, 82, is the chamber’s longest-serving Democrat and has more than three decades on the committee. He also is closely allied with U.S. automakers and utilities a position that has pitted him against Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, on some environmental issues.

Mr. Waxman, 69, had the backing of Mrs. Pelosi and the party’s steering committee.

The Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to be a clearinghouse in the upcoming Congress, including broad energy and environmental reforms, along with likely plans to expand health care.

Wednesday’s vote of Democratic leadership to recommend that Mr. Waxman take over the committee sharply foreshadowed Thursday morning’s vote: The leadership committee favored him 53 percent to 47 percent over Mr. Dingell, as did the full caucus.

On Thursday, Mrs. Boxer announced plans by her committee to introduce two measures drafted to mirror Mr. Obama’s environmental agenda announced during the campaign.

Mrs. Boxer, and a handful of senators who serve on her Environment and Public Works Committee, on Thursday said they would introduce plans to spend $15 billion a year on renewable energy projects, and establish a cap-and-trade program designed to cut emissions on a scale similar to Mr. Obama’s campaign promise.

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