- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

Democrats are fighting over the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the outcome could affect President-elect Barack Obama‘s efforts to limit the heat-trapping gases widely blamed for global warming.

Mr. Obama has said he wants to act quickly on climate change. But bipartisan support could be tested if liberal California Rep. Henry A. Waxman unseats Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan, the committee’s top Democrat for 28 years and an important ally of automakers and electric utilities.

The committee will take the lead on legislation to cap greenhouse gases and establish a multibillion-dollar market in carbon dioxide. Companies would buy and sell the right to emit carbon dioxide.

Last month, Mr. Dingell and Rep. Rick Boucher, Virginia Democrat, released a draft of a global warming bill for reducing greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050, in line with what Mr. Obama has proposed.

Environmentalists and some liberal Democrats, however, see Mr. Dingell as an obstacle to stricter fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and to cleaner fuels, as Mr. Obama also has advocated. They see in Mr. Waxman, whose district includes Beverly Hills, an opportunity to push through a more ambitious environmental agenda now that Democrats have expanded their majorities in Congress and will take over the White House.

Mr. Dingell’s supporters say his legislation has a better chance of winning support from some Republicans and conservative Democrats, many of them on his 57-member committee, because it slowly reduces emissions to buy time for technology to develop.

Liberals and environmentalists complain that Mr. Dingell’s bill could pre-empt states such as California that have set up their own carbon trading systems and bar the Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies from setting auto mileage standards different from the Transportation Department’s.

“The prospects for success will be much better under Chairman Dingell on this issue and many others,” said Mr. Boucher, who heads the subcommittee on air quality.

Rep. Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania Democrat, who was working the phones to drum up support for Mr. Dingell, said claims by Mr. Waxman’s supporters that Mr. Dingell would not advance climate legislation quickly were “not based in reality.”

“This climate change bill is not a slam-dunk,” Mr. Doyle said. “It is not like we have overwhelming votes in the House and Senate.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland have not taken sides. The Obama camp is also staying out of it.

Neither Mr. Dingell nor Mr. Waxman would comment directly about the tussle. Each side claimed to have enough votes among Democrats for the committee’s top spot.

In a letter to members of the committee, Mr. Dingell did not refer to Mr. Waxman and cited Mrs. Pelosi: “The country must be governed from the middle.”

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