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If you care about climate change, you should be focused on an obscure vote of the Democratic caucus today.

The fight between John Dingell of Michigan and Henry Waxman of California over the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce committee is just the kind of thing that is easy to ignore but which will decide the future of our environment.

Dingell is 82-years-old and the dean of the Congress, having served since 1955. His father held the seat before him between 1933 and 1955. Dingell is the champion of the auto industry, and an old-fashioned liberal out of the New Deal mold. Normally, he is a champion of the environment as well, except when it becomes a choice between cars and smog.

Waxman is the representative of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, and far more hard-line on emission standards and climate change. He is the author of the Safe Climate Act.

The Energy and Commerce Committee will deal with not just climate change, but also health care and green economic measures. And the chair of a Congressional committee has incredible powers to block legislation from reaching the floor for a vote.

President-elect Obama has a real Gordian Knot here. If he backs Waxman to get a better climate change deal, and Waxman loses, he risks getting an obstructionist chair not just on his climate change bill but on health care as well. If he stays out of the race, he risks Dingell being just as obstructionist on climate change AND having Waxman as an enemy as remaining as chair of the Oversite and Government Reform Committee, the main investigator of everything from Presidential wrong-doing to anabolic steroid use.

Good luck, Barack.

 

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