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Graphic Element, Right Gutter

Global Warming Tops Democratic Legislative Agenda

White House Set To Oppose Carbon Caps, So At Least It's On Somebody's

Dem Committee Chairs Cool to the Idea

Wow! Progress Already.

Based on an Associated Press Report

In an effort to show just the importance of the global warming issue to the Demcoratic Party, the new speaker of the House of Representatives is ignoring committee selection traditions involving some of Congress' oldest and most powerful members.

Putting power in the hands of members who are more active on environmental problems, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is creating a special committee to recommend legislation to cut greenhouse gases. The committee is expected to be chaired by Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, according to the Associated Press.

Markey has advocated raising mileage standards for cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles and is one of the House's biggest critics of oil companies and American automakers.

Meanwhile, the White House put down a rumor that President George W. Bush was going to endorse caps on carbon emissions in next week's State of the Union. In the Senate, Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and the new chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, is introducing a national bill that follows her state's example and seeks to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by mid-century.

Pelosi's move, to some degree, would sidestep two of the House's most powerful Democratic committee bosses, in shaping what is expected to be at least a yearlong debate on global warming:

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, a defender of the auto industry, which is based in his state, Michigan, 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 overwarming the atmosphere. A chief advocate of such a tax is former Democratic Vice President Al Gore.

Nick Rahall, head of the House Natural Resources Committeee, 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, noncarbon 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 chairman 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."

Henry Waxman, Chair of Oversignt and Government Reform, and like Markey a one-time protégé of Dingell, said 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 George W. Bush, who plans to outline his global warming approach in his State of the Union address next week. Bush repeatedly has 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 probably still would 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 has not shied from taking on other powerful House Democrats, including imposing six-year term limits on committee chairmen over objections from Dingell and other senior Democrats.

The House's first woman speaker also has a history with Dingell, who backed Hoyer over Pelosi in a 2001 race for a leadership post. Pelosi backed a Democratic primary challenger to Dingell's re-election the next year.