In a move that could have a significant impact on the energy sector (and create a buzz among political science departments) nationwide, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) has dethroned Representative John Dingell (D-MI) in his nearly 28-year post as chairman of the influential Committee on Energy and Commerce. The 137-122 secret vote has shaken up the seniority system that has driven the caucus for decades. It also replaces a long-time friend of the auto industry with someone who has been championed by environmentalists for his positions on clean air and global warming.
Waxman’s ascension to the Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship is particularly significant because the committee shepherds legislation on climate change, energy, and health care—all of which are key priorities of the Obama Administration. Waxman (who also has a strong leadership record on health care issues) has pushed for aggressive targets for carbon emissions reductions, more stringent auto emissions standards, and a national cap-and-trade program. Although Dingell recently proposed legislation that would impose gradual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Waxman has put forth much more ambitious climate change legislation.
Also of note is Obama’s recent appointment of Philip Schiliro, a longtime aide to Waxman, as the new White House director of Congressional relations. This appointment is considered to be significant in that it provides Waxman with a direct channel to the White House. Congressional insiders have also noted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a close ally of Waxman’s. This web of connections underscores the potential for the Obama Administration and Congress to work closely together to usher in major changes to U.S. climate change policy.