The odds in favor of a good climate change bill just improved

An earthquake hit Capitol Hill today, as the House Democratic caucus voted 137 to 122 to make Representative Henry Waxman of California chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He will replace Representative John Dingell of Michigan, who has served in the House for more than 50 years (after his father represented the same district for more than two decades).

Dingell has been the top Democrat on the panel for 28 years and is an old-school supporter of the auto industry. Waxman has complained that the committee has been too slow to address environmental issues like global warming.

“The argument we made was that we needed a change for the committee to have the leadership that will work with this administration and members in both the House and the Senate in order to get important issues passed in health care, environmental protection, in energy policy,” Waxman said after the vote.

“The next two years are critical,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who spoke on Waxman’s behalf in the closed-door caucus. “It’s not personal. It’s about the American people demanding that we embrace change and work with the president on critical issues of climate change and energy and health care.”

This is more important than the Senate Democrats caving to Joe Lieberman on Tuesday.

It’s an excellent sign that the new Congress will be serious about progressive change. I had read yesterday that freshman Democrats were overwhelmingly for Waxman, while the Blue Dogs and Congressional Black Caucus were mostly for Dingell.

It’s unfortunate that Dingell has spent several decades trying to shield the big three American automakers from government regulation on fuel efficiency and other matters. If he had not “protected” them for so long, maybe U.S.-made cars would be more desirable for more consumers, and the automakers would not be on the brink of bankruptcy.

Of course, our employer-based health care system is another major drag on American manufacturers. With any luck we will be able to help uninsured Americans and major industry at the same time by passing universal health care reform.

Congratulations to Waxman for taking the first step in what will no doubt be a long slog.

UPDATE: A Siegel is encouraged by Obama’s speech to the recent bipartisan governors’ summit on climate change. Click the link for more details and the text of the speech.

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