By Tom Ferraro | Reuters
WASHINGTON – Rep. Henry Waxman unseated fellow veteran Democratic lawmaker John Dingell on Thursday to become chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.
The 255-House Democratic conference voted 137 to 122 to accept the recommendation of its steering committee and agreed to replace Dingell, 82, a long-time friend of the U.S. auto industry, with Waxman, a 69-year-old Californian anxious to ease global warming, a top concern of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.
“I am very gratified by the trust put into me,” Waxman told reporters after the vote.
Waxman said it had been a “contentious” and close race, and offered a salute to Dingell, the dean of the House who first joined the body from Michigan in 1955.
“We will always owe him a debt of gratitude for a life-time of public service,” Waxman said.
The vote puts Waxman, a well known champion of environmental causes, in charge of a committee that has broad jurisdiction over a host of matters from consumer protection and regulation of energy resources to global warming, conservation, health and auto emissions.
Dingell, fought for decades for breaks for the Big Three automakers, which are now seeking relief from Congress. But he eventually joined the mounting drive to pressure the industry to build a more efficient car.
Fossil-fueled vehicles, like those made in Dingell’s district, which includes Detroit, are key sources of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.
Waxman, 69, has battled for clean air and water legislation and to curb climate change. After years of debates on Capitol Hill, Dingell and Waxman helped produce the 1990 Clean Air Act.
Democrats also unanimously re-elected three chairmen of major committees that oversee government spending, taxes and trade and the financial industry in the upcoming Congress that convenes on January 6.
Appropriations Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin, Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel of New York and Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts were returned for two-year terms.