Democrats in the House of Representatives, intent on making climate change a marquee issue, created a special panel Thursday to study and offer recommendations on how to deal with global warming.
The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, advanced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat, was approved on a vote of 269-150. A majority of Republicans voted against it, arguing that the committee was unnecessary or that its budget could be used better by the ethics committee.
"Global warming may be the greatest challenge of our time, setting at risk our economy, environment and national security," Pelosi said in a statement. With the new committee, "the House is giving these issues the high visibility they deserve."
The committee, comprising nine Democrats and six Republicans, will be chaired by Democratic Rep. Edward Markey. It will hold hearings and recommend legislation but in a concession to existing committees will not write legislation and will exist for only two years.
Pelosi's Jan. 18 announcement that she wanted a special climate change committee ran into quick resistance from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, a Democrat whose district is in Michigan, the heart of the U.S. automobile industry. He saw the new alignment as an infringement on his panel's responsibilities.
In early February Dingell, the most senior Democrat in the House, and Pelosi agreed on the scope of the new panel and avoided what could have been an embarrassing floor fight.
The climate committee was recognized formally as part of a vote on budgets for House committees in 2007 and 2008, up about 2.4 percent over the last session of Congress to $280 million. The global warming committee will have a two-year budget of $3.7 million
Since assuming power in January, Democrats have held numerous hearings on global warming, in sharp contrast to Republicans who assigned the issue to a lower priority when they were in the majority. Former Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat who lectures on the consequences of global warming in a documentary motion picture that won an Academy Award, is to testify before Dingell's committee later this month.
Republican Rep. Joe Barton, the top Republican on the Energy Committee, disparaged the new panel, saying in a statement that its only purpose was "serving as a platform for some members to grandstand and play to the constituencies that are so insistent that we destroy our economy in the name of political correctness."
Other Republicans chided Democrats for giving money to the global warming committee while cutting $1 million from the money requested by the ethics committee, which ended with $6.1 million.
They argued that Democrats came to power promising clean government and have imposed strict new ethics guidelines for lawmakers, and it was inconsistent not to provide the committee with adequate finances.
"Limiting the ethics committee budget limits the ethics committee's ability to do its job," said Rep. Doc Hastings, senior Republican on the ethics, or Standards of Official Conduct, committee.
But the committee's chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, said that while she could have used the extra money, "I'm a big girl. I lost that money, but it doesn't mean I'm not going to do my job."
Besides Markey, Democrats on the committee are: Earl Blumenauer of Oregon; Jay Inslee of Washington; John Larson of Connecticut; Hilda Solis of California; Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota; Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri; John Hall of New York; and Jerry McNerney of California.
Republicans on the committee are: James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin; John Shadegg of Arizona; Greg Walden of Oregon; John Sullivan of Oklahoma; Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; and Candice Miller of Michigan.