As Kate reported earlier today, new House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is reorganizing the committee, unifying oversight of climate, energy, air quality, and water issues under a single subcommittee: the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

The Boston Globe just broke the news that Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will chair the new subcommittee.

This is a big deal, even if you don’t particularly care about inside Congressional baseball.

Right now Markey chairs the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, and reportedly enjoys working on telecom policy. Due to his seniority, he had his choice of subcommittees this session — which meant he could, if he wanted, take the reins of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee from coal lover and Dingell ally Rick Boucher (D-Va.). That alone would have been, as Joe noted the other day, "almost as big a deal as Waxman defeating Dingell for committee chair."

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But now Waxman has consolidated environment and energy jurisdiction in one subcommittee. Gone is the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, chaired by Gene Green [D-Texas], another Dingell ally.

Apparently that sweetened the pot enough to make it irresistible to Markey.

Markey will remain chair of the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming. Joe said the other day that he "can’t see the point in keeping the Select committee if Markey switches positions," but I think that misses something important.

The Energy and Environment Subcommittee has something the Select Committee does not: subpoena power and [Update: the Select Committee does have subpoena power] legislative jurisdiction. It will be the key subcommittee pushing climate/energy legislation through the House.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Conversely, the Select Committee has something the Subcommittee doesn’t: total freedom, an absence of jurisdictional restraints. The climate/energy issue is so big that Markey can hold hearings on national security, jobs, housing, refugees, trade, you name it. Those subjects are outside the E&E Subcommittee’s legislative bailiwick but within the Select Committee’s bully-pulpit bailiwick.

This gives Markey a one-two punch: he can craft and help pass climate/energy legislation through the Subcommittee while using the Select Committee to educate other committee chairs about how the issue affects their jurisdictions. I can’t think of another committee chair who has the same kind of megaphone with which to drum up support for his own legislation, in the House and among the public.

With this move, Pelosi’s House further cements itself as the likely force for boldness on climate/energy issues in coming years. The Speaker is by all accounts a sincere and committed greenie. She has Waxman at the helm of the relevant committee. She has Markey running the relevant subcommittee and doing education/advocacy. Dingell and his allies — the go-slow lobby — have been cleared away. All systems are go.

Of course there aren’t quite as many positive signals from the Senate, where courage on these issues has been sorely lacking. (Udall and Merkley are welcome additions to EPW though.) The 110th Congress was a dispiriting experience for greens, who watched again and again as the House passed ambitious green legislation only to have it compromised to impotence or blocked by threatened Republican filibusters in the Senate. Reid is out telling the media "Democrats have to be ‘very, very careful’ about overreaching." Yeah, that’s the danger.

Nonetheless, with Franken’s apparent win, Dems have 59 votes. No more excuses. If Reid needs shiv weilding lessons he can get them from his counterpart in the People’s House.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!