WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, intent on putting global warming atop the Democratic agenda, is shaking up traditional committee fiefdoms dominated by some of Congress' oldest and most powerful members.
She's moving to create a special committee to recommend legislation for cutting greenhouse gases, most likely to be chaired by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday.
Markey has advocated raising mileage standards for cars, trucks and SUVs and is one of the House's biggest critics of oil companies and U.S. automakers,
Pelosi has discussed the proposal with at least two Democratic committee chairmen: fellow Californian Henry Waxman of Oversight and Government Reform, and West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall, who heads the Natural Resources panel. Pelosi intends to announce the move this week, said the leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because not all of the details have been worked out.
The move, to some degree, would sidestep two of the House's most powerful Democratic committee bosses, in shaping what's expected to be at least a yearlong debate on global warming:
— Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell of Michigan, a defender of the auto industry and at 80 the longest serving member of the House.
— New York Rep. Charles Rangel, who as the 76-year-old chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, would have to clear any tax on carbon-based fuels like coal, oil or natural gas, which have been blamed for warming the atmosphere. A chief advocate of such a tax is former Democratic Vice President Al Gore.
Rahall said he had spoken with Pelosi about the idea of a new select committee. Rahall's panel oversees energy development on public lands, including coal, oil and natural gas as well as cleaner, non-carbon sources such as geothermal and windmills.
"I've been assured that no legislative jurisdiction would be taken away from any committee," Rahall said. "No legislative responsibility would be shifted from any committee."
As chair of Energy and Commerce, Dingell oversees the Clean Air Act — and would have the most to lose by letting another panel take the lead. The panel's staff chief, Dennis Fitzgibbons, a former auto company lobbyist, said Dingell was philosophically opposed to Pelosi's plan.
"He has always been cool to the idea, because it undermines the fundamental idea for establishing committees in the first place, which is to acquire expertise in a certain area," Fitzgibbons said.
Dingell, asked about the new committee, said, "I have not been officially informed."
Waxman, like Markey a one-time protege of Dingell, said that Pelosi discussed the idea of a special committee with him several days ago. He, too, is a skeptic.
"I believe the existing committees can deal effectively with global warming," he said Wednesday. "But I can also understand why the speaker believes it's important to highlight this issue."
A new committee would give Pelosi a vehicle to push a regulatory scheme for reducing greenhouse gases and pit her against President Bush, who plans to outline his global warming approach in his State of the Union next week. Bush has repeatedly opposed any mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, instead advocating voluntary approaches and research on new technologies. Pelosi has supported mandatory reductions with specific target dates for achieving them.
"It's an issue that the speaker thinks is critical to address," said Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider.
Democratic officials said the committee would be responsible for advising the best legislative approaches while the actual bill-writing duties would likely still be done by Dingell's and Rangel's committees. Among the topics being negotiated are how long the committee should exist and how broad its focus should be, since global climate change affects virtually everything.
Pelosi hasn't shied from taking on other powerful House Democrats. She endorsed the losing effort by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., to become majority leader over Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. She also has approved of six-year term limits for committee chairmen over objections from Dingell and other senior Democrats.
She also has a history with Dingell, who backed Hoyer over Pelosi in a 2001 race for the party whip's post. Pelosi backed a Democratic primary challenger to Dingell's re-election the following year.