With a secret-ballot vote by Democrats in the House of Representatives likely next week, Washington, D.C. continues to buzz over the effort by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to unseat Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Dingell’s corporate-lobbyist friends on K Street are coyly staying off the record on this — I guess they don’t want to make it too obvious that Dingell is their guy — though unnamed sources have begun floating the idea that some sort of compromise might be appropriate. This is probably a sign of weakness from the Dingell camp. (One reporter did suggest the following compromise to me: that Waxman and Dingell exchange chairmanships, since Waxman is currently chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, and Dingell excels at oversight.)
Waxman, meanwhile, has received a vote of confidence from the progressive Working Assets organization, which is urging members of Congress to dump Dingell in favor of Waxman if Congress is serious about global warming. The organization noted in an email to House members:
The most important pieces of legislation addressing climate change must pass through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As chair of that committee, Congressman Dingell has exerted his power time and again to kill bills that could roll back global warming. Dingell has lined his campaign war chest with millions of dollars of contributions from electric, oil and coal companies. His wife (and potential successor to his Congressional seat) is a senior executive at General Motors. What’s more, until recently, he wouldn’t even admit that climate change was a real threat.
Dingell’s opposition to clean-air controls goes back decades. In an earlier post, I made reference to a 1982 piece I wrote for The New Republic called "Tailpipe Johnny." (I should have clarified that I did not originate the Tailpipe Johnny moniker. That should appropriately be attributed to the late Republican Rep. Ed Madigan of Illinois.)
More than a decade after Dingell unsuccessfully tried to weaken the Clean Air Act — and after he delayed efforts to control acid rain and other emerging problems — the Michigan Democrat led an industry-supported effort in Congress to repeal the tougher air pollution standards for smog and soot adopted by the Clinton administration. Dingell’s effort collapsed only after Waxman announced he had lined up enough votes to sustain a Clinton veto.
Had Dingell succeeded, we likely would not have seen the numerous pollution control programs adopted in the past decade to help meet those standards, including tougher smog-season controls on power plants, tougher standards for cars and SUVs, cleaner gasoline and diesel fuel, and better standards for highway trucks, off-road diesel vehicles, trains and boats and small engines, to cite just a few.