Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.

The House Energy Committee is seeing an intense leadership fight, as four different Republicans are vying to take over the influential post from Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), who shepherded progressive climate legislation through the House in 2009, before it foundered in the U.S. Senate. The four candidates — Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) — all want to reopen the floodgates for a deregulated fossil fuel industry. But precisely how reactionary the committee will become — whether investigations will be launched against climate scientists and all clean-energy efforts killed — could depend on which fossil-fueled Republican wins the intraparty fight.

The frontrunner Upton is the only candidate who doesn’t explicitly question the science of man-made global warming, though he is opposed to any policy action. It remains to be seen if the new GOP caucus — dominated by climate deniers — will accept Upton’s marginally realist stance, or if denial of science will be a litmus test.

Fred Upton

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is the most senior member eligible to take over the committee. In 1990, Upton voted for the Clean Air Act, enacting a cap-and-trade system to limit the sulfur pollution that causes acid rain. Now, however, although Upton admits “we need to reduce emissions” of greenhouse pollution, he opposes “cap-and-tax,” as he said in April 2009:

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A cap-and-tax, cap-and-trade will essentially kick American families when they’re down. I do believe that we need to reduce emissions, but it needs to be done in a common sense way that takes into account the economic and global realities of the issue.

Appearing at the Copenhagen climate conference last December, Upton reiterated his position that greenhouse pollution should be be lowered without explicit limits:

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I think we can lower our emissions. I think the world will be better off if we did that, and we can do it without cap-and-trade.

Seeking the chair, Upton is remaking himself as a Glenn Beck-ian conspiracy theorist (“It is also quite unfortunate that Van Jones, the former green jobs czar, avoided congressional scrutiny and could not be questioned on his alarming associations with the so-called “9/11 truther” movement or on his radical leanings”) who will hound Obama climate advisor Carol Browner:

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Because Browner serves as a czar, she has not been subject to the customary Senate confirmation hearing in which her philosophy on transparency could be examined. This circumvention is wholly unacceptable, especially given Browner’s wide-ranging legislative portfolio and influence within the administration. She was the Obama administration’s point person for a massive economy-killing national energy tax in the form of a cap-and-trade scheme.

Thankfully, the American people did not fall prey to the administration’s climate gimmicks and had their voices heard at town halls across America last summer …

House Republicans pledge to conduct vigorous oversights of the Obama administration next year if the American people entrust us with the Majority. With Republicans at the helm and exercising our authority to oversee activities of the executive branch, we will restore the public trust and subject this White House and its dozens of czars to the scrutiny that taxpaying Americans expect and deserve.

Upton’s top donor is nuclear waste giant EnergySolutions ($38,800), with other major donors including Michigan utilities CMS Energy ($22,750) and DTE Energy ($16,900). His leadership PAC distributed $129,000 to other Republicans, which should help him in the battle.

John Shimkus

Eight-term Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is “calling members of the GOP Steering Committee and will soon reach out to rank-and-file lawmakers” to seek the energy committee chair. Shimkus both denies global warming and makes absurd claims about the threat of limits on carbon pollution. Shimkus thinks climate legislation would be worse than the September 11th attacks:

I think this is the largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country that I’ve ever experienced. I’ve lived through some tough times in Congress — impeachment, two wars, terrorist attacks. I fear this more than all of the above activities that have happened.

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Shimkus is a Koch Industries candidate ($18,500 this cycle), and his top contributor is nuclear giant Exelon ($20,000). Other top donors include the coal-using National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and American Crystal Sugar ($10,000 each). His leadership PAC only distributed $25,500 to fellow Republicans.

Cliff Stearns

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) has been angling for the energy committee chair for months. Like Shimkus, his main strength against Upton is that he is a hard-right ideological conservative. Stearns has been a strong proponent of expanding drilling, claiming falsely that “ANWR alone would be capable of reversing the decline in U.S. petroleum supply within a decade.” Stearns responded to the BP oil disaster by saying, “the Challenger and the Columbia disasters did not end our space program and this spill should not be the end of our domestic energy production.” In 2007, Stearns gave a floor speech promoting the “global cooling” myth:

Not everyone sounded the alarm about global cooling in the seventies, just like not everyone is sounding the alarm about global warming today. Madam Speaker, the fact that so many experts were wrong about global cooling in the seventies does not necessarily mean that they are wrong about global warming today, but it does at least show that experts are sometimes incredibly, incredibly wrong.

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Like the others, Stearns repeats false claims of economic disaster from a cap-and-trade system. However, Stearns recently told Politico that “we’ve got
to control CO2

I think all of us realize we’ve got to control CO2 and that we have various ways to do it. … My position has been anything we can do to control and regulate is good, but do it through the private sector. The energy policy I’m talking about isn’t on global warming; it’s making us self-sufficient.

Stearns’ contributions mostly reflect his position as the top Republican on the telecom committee, although he has received $5000 each this cycle from Progress Energy and and Peabody Energy. His leadership PAC has contributed a measly $2,500 to four House Republicans.

Joe Barton

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the top Republican on the energy committee, will need a waiver from GOP leadership to return to the chair. Yesterday, he “sent out letters to the incoming 60-and-counting Republican freshmen asking them for support.” The letters rail against “radical cap-and-trade legislation” and the “rotten core” of Obama’s healthcare legislation. Most recently famous for apologizing to BP, Barton thinks global warming is “natural“:

Barton is a sponge for oil and coal money. This cycle, his top donors include coal giant Murray Energy ($20,990), Koch Industries ($18,000), coal utility PPL Corp ($17,500), Valero Energy ($15,000), Exelon ($14,000), DTE Energy ($13,500), Exxon Mobil ($12,000), American Electric Power ($10,000), and a raft of industry trade groups. His leadership PAC has distributed $88,500 to fellow Republicans.