In an election rivaling 1994 when Republicans swept into the majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats dominated midterm elections for both chambers. With seven House races yet to be determined, the Democrats claimed the majority in both chambers with 231 seats in the House and 51 seats in the Senate. Democrats picked up seats in 13 states, including seats from members Jim Leach (2nd Iowa), Nancy Johnson (3rd Connecticut), Clay Shaw (22nd Florida), and Curt Weldon (7th Pennsylvania) all who have been Members of Congress for twenty or more years.

In preparation for the 110th Congress and the 2008 presidential election, Senators are jockeying for leadership positions. Among the notable changes to committee leadership in the new Democratically-controlled Senate, is the head of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Losing the top spot on the committee is Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, who will likely be replaced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Inhofe, a vocal skeptic of climate change who has argued that climate change is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," may also lose his post as the ranking minority member on the committee. Late last week, Senator John Warner (R-VA) signaled his intent to utilize his seniority over Inhofe to assume the post of ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator Warner said in a recent interview that he is increasingly concerned about climate change.

Senator Boxer (D-CA) was a cosponsor in the 109th Congress of aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade legislation. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), also a cosponsor of that bill, will chair the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has also supported action on climate change.

The new leadership in the House of Representatives has begun to emerge. During the week of 13 November, House Democrats elected Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to be Speaker of the House. Pelosi is the first woman to hold the position. Filling the number two spot in the House will be Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer.

New committee assignments are still being set, but some forecasts are possible. Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN) will likely chair the House Science Committee. Indications are that Gordon would like to maintain the committee's traditions of bipartisanship. Additionally, Gordon is expected to show interest in funding for scientific programs, continuing to boost U.S. competitiveness in the global research market, improving science education programs, and reducing the politicization of science. Taking the reigns of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee will be former chairman Representative John Dingell (D-MI). Representative Dingell is a supporter of the National Institutes of Health and will likely continue to work to increase funding for the agency. Representative Dingell has previously sided with Republicans on climate change issues, but has announced plans to hold hearings on climate change policy.

The change to the leadership of the House Resources Committee may have been one of the biggest gains for environmentalists and scientists concerned with resource extraction and endangered species legislation. Richard Pombo (R-CA), the former chair of the Committee, was defeated by John McNerney (D-CA), an engineer with experience in alternative energy technologies. Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) will likely take over the chairmanship of the Resources Committee. He has not set an agenda, but some in the environmental community think that he will not pursue Pombo's agenda to weaken the Endangered Species Act or promote drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) is expected to head the House Government Reform Committee, charged with oversight of the federal government. Representative Waxman may include among his priorities a review of the Bush Administration's science record, the politicization of science, and the impact of funding reductions at agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Representative David Obey (D-WI) is expected to take the reigns of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

 


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