Markey in Line to Head New Global Warming Committee

WASHINGTON–US Representative Edward J. Markey of Malden is in line to lead a new congressional committee on global warming, after the House of Representatives broke a weeks long logjam yesterday and voted to establish the new panel.

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, created at the behest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is intended to explore legislative solutions to global climate change and make recommendations to Congress, with an eye on completing an initial round of legislation by this summer.

Markey, a veteran Democrat who is expected to be named the panel’s chairman as soon as today, is a longtime advocate of mandatory caps on carbon emissions and higher fuel economy standards in vehicles. Scientists say carbon dioxide from factories and vehicles burning fossil fuels is causing the planet’s climate to heat, melting polar ice and altering weather patterns.

“We have lost a decade watching the president and the Republican leadership play the politics of climate-change denial,” Markey said. “Now it is time to play catch-up, before it is too late.”

Many pro-business Republicans don’t want the new committee. Some of the House’s most powerful Democratic committee chairmen also fear that establishing the new panel would erode their authority.

Representative John D. Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was particularly angry over the prospect of sharing the issue with another committee. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, has been a champion of Detroit auto interests and has resisted legislation forcing car manufacturers to build more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, sought to address the concerns of Dingell and other Democratic committee chairmen by stipulating that Markey’s committee will not have the power to write legislation. That means all of the panel’s recommendations must work their way through other committees–including Dingell’s, in some cases — before they reach the House floor.

Dingell also insisted that the global warming committee will vanish at the end of the 2007-2008 congressional session.

Some critics of the new committee predicted that it would have little impact on global warming, widely viewed as an environmental crisis in need of urgent action. Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who served as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee until this year, labeled it a “show-horse committee” that would slow the legislative process and generate little more than headlines.

“It’ll be a platform for grandstanding,” Barton said. “It’s unnecessary, and I think it’s counterproductive. I don’t think it will have a substantive impact.”

Democrats made clear that the new committee represents their commitment to move quickly and comprehensively to limit the impact of global warming, even though the Bush administration and energy industry groups–who had been skeptical of the phenomenon–would probably fight any restrictions on fossil fuels.

Pelosi argued that forming the committee is a necessary step to streamline legislative oversight of climate change issues; at least eight separate House committees claim some jurisdiction over the problem. The speaker contended that she wants the committee to generate ideas like those she said Republicans leaders ignored after they took control of Congress in 1995.

“Debate on global warming has been stifled for 12 years; we can’t wait any longer,” Pelosi said. “With American ingenuity and a commitment from Congress, we are moving in a new direction to permanently address global warming and make our nation energy-independent.”

The committee Markey is poised to lead will have a $3.7 million budget for staff members and research, and will consist of 15 members–nine Democrats and six Republicans. Pelosi and House minority leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, will choose the members in the coming days.
To avoid a potentially bruising House floor battle over the new committee, Pelosi included its creation as part of a broad bill that funds the operations for all House committees. The measure passed overwhelmingly, 269 to 150.

Dingell voted for the measure, but his chilly response to the committee’s creation could presage conflicts ahead.

“We’ll do the legislative work, and we’ll hope they’ll stay out of our way,” he told reporters yesterday.

The new committee is being established amid a flurry of congressional action seeking to confront global warming. Several other committees have also scheduled hearings on the topic, and former vice president Al Gore–who has championed the issue in a book and an Oscar-winning documentary since leaving office–is scheduled to testify at a hearing later this month.

Yesterday, Senator John F. Kerry held a hearing in the Senate Small Business Committee where he pressed the White House to promote incentives for entrepreneurs who pursue energy-efficiency initiatives.

“We need to do a better job of reaching out to America’s small businesses to demonstrate to them that these savings are real and that the win for their bottom line is a win for the long-term health of the planet,” said Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Markey declined to comment on the new committee’s agenda, pending a formal announcement by Pelosi.