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Waxman Vs. Dingell, Round... Oh, We Lost Count

Only two days after the election and already the daggers are drawn: Henry Waxman's going to challenge John Dingell for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Why? Well, Waxman is considerably more aggressive about tackling greenhouse-gas emissions than Dingell, who, after all, represents automakers in Detroit and has long taken a more leisurely approach to climate legislation. It was a similar story during the Reagan years, when Dingell helped bottle up acid-rain amendments to the Clean Air Act in committee for most of decade, while Waxman was leading the cavalry (the bill eventually passed in 1990, once Dingell relented).

After Democrats took back the House in 2006, Nancy Pelosi mostly avoided an open confrontation with Dingell, though she did raise his hackles by creating a brand-new select committee on global warming, staffed with eco-minded members (granted, the new panel was only given the power to hold hearings—not to write actual legislation). But, over the last two years, it seems like Pelosi and the leadership have been wrestling with Dingell over everything from liquid-coal subsidies to fuel-economy standards. Many House Dems who want a robust climate-change bill passed, and believe that now's the opportunity to do it, think that unseating Dingell is the only way forward.

Now, it should be noted that Dingell does support cap-and-trade legislation—though his industry-friendly proposal has enviros chafing at its lukewarm targets—and he's still a formidable legislator. If he wants to get cap-and-trade done, it'll get done. So there are pluses and minuses. One refining lobbyist has warned that "all hell will break loose legislatively if Waxman chairs this thing." Apparently his hearings on the oversight committee haven't earned him friends in the oil industry. But Waxman is also an accomplished legislator in his own right, even if his style is less dramatic. Waxman, from what I've heard, prefers to sit down with all parties, address their concerns, gently hash out differences, whereas Dingell's more an old-school "Johnson treatment" type of guy, cajoling, threatening, buttonholing lawmakers in a corner until they cave. (It's not uncommon to hear the barrel-chested Dingell compared to Rahm Emanuel, at least in terms of ruthlessness and temperament.)

Anyway, I'll hopefully have more on this soon, but for some background on Dingell and his occasional dogfights with Waxman over the years, check out either this piece I wrote back in 2006 on his environmental record (which has been pretty conventionally liberal, except—and it's a whale of an exception—on things related to the auto industry) or Eve's fine piece on Dingell's exasperation with his green critics.

--Bradford Plumer