Muckraker: Grist on Politics

As the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has the authority to reorganize the panel’s subcommittees, which could have further implications for climate and energy policy in the 111th Congress.

The position many enviro observers are wondering about is the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, which is currently headed by Rick Boucher (D-Va.) — an ally of John Dingell (D-Mich.), the man Waxman unseated as committee chairman this week. Boucher, whose district is home to lots of coal mining, co-authored Dingell’s climate bill and has been a proponent putting of billions of dollars toward investment in carbon capture and storage technology.

Since Dingell ranks above Boucher, he could theoretically take that spot, if he wants it. But Waxman could swap his ally, Ed Markey (D-Mass.), into the role, who also has seniority. Markey also chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi today vowed to renew next year with Markey at the helm. Whether Markey would want to take the lead on the subcommittee, which unlike his select committee would have the power to mark-up and advance legislation, remains to be seen. Markey is also currently the chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee for Telecommunications and the Internet.

Waxman could also tap someone else to head the subcommittee, if he so chooses. And if the vote yesterday showed one thing, it’s that deference to seniority is weakening. Waxman acknowledged as much yesterday: “We are at a unique moment in history. Seniority is important, but it should not be a grant of property rights to be chairman for three decades or more.”

Regardless of what happens, Boucher will probably retain influence on climate legislation. If he’s not chairman of Energy and Air Quality, his stature may allow him to take the helm of another subcommittee, and he’s pledged that he will still be a staunch advocate for the coal industry. “It doesn’t change my substantive work,” he told the the Times-News yesterday. “I think it has little, if any, effect because I will be in the thick of the action working on behalf of our region, whether as subcommittee chair or some other role.”

“I will continue to have a leading role in formulating energy policy and in assuring that the climate change legislation enables a future growth in the coal industry, and that will be true whether I chair the subcommittee or I serve on the subcommittee as a senior member, in which event I will be chairing some other subcommittee,” Boucher said.

Another subcommittee chairmanship that enviros will have their eyes on is the Environment and Hazardous Materials panel, currently headed by Gene Green of Texas.