WASHINGTON – Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, has agreed to a compromise that ends three week of infighting with a fellow Democrat. a powerful committee chairman, over a special panel on climate change.
Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the most senior member of the House, had objected strongly to creation of the select committee that Pelosi said would put added focus on the need to deal with global warming.
Dingell, in a letter to Pelosi that his office made public Tuesday, said he was pleased "we have been able to successfully resolve questions concerning the authorities and responsibilities" of the new committee.
The letter also was signed by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who also had opposed creation of the special panel.
Under the agreement, the new committee, chaired by Democratic Rep. Edward Markey, will hold hearings and recommend legislation but will have no authority to approve legislation. It also would expire at the end of this Congress, or January 2009.
Standing committees, such as Dingell's energy panel, will have first shot at witnesses if a conflict should arise, and the special panel must consult with Pelosi's office before issuing subpoenas for witnesses or documents.
Pelosi's announcement Jan. 18 that she wanted to have a special climate change committee set off a heated debate among House Democrats as major committee chairmen, including Dingell, worried about losing power on the biggest environmental issue facing Congress.
Dingell made clear that if the new panel's reach was not curbed significantly, he and other Democrats were ready to fight Pelosi on the issue on the House floor, which the minority Republicans would have relished.
In announcing the new committee, Pelosi said she simply wanted to show that Democrats are giving climate change the priority it deserves, promising legislation on the matter by the Independence Day recess on July 4.
But many in the House saw it as a way for Pelosi, who favors aggressive action on climate change, to outflank Dingell, especially as it relates to cutting carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles by requiring more fuel-efficient cars.
Dingell has long opposed efforts in Congress to impose more stringent fuel economy requirements. His district is in Michigan, home of the U.S. auto industry.
Nevertheless, Dingell has promised to move aggressively on the climate issue, planning a series of hearings beginning next week, and he has asked former Vice President Al Gore, among the loudest voices on the climate issue, to testify.