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BREAKING: Republican Fred Upton Wins Energy and Commerce Committee Gavel

By Jesse Jenkins, reporting for the Energy Collective

Breaking news from Capitol Hill this evening: Republican leaders have selected Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee when the GOP takes the gavel in 2011.

The key committee post, which has wide-ranging domain over energy policy as well as health care, telecommunications, consumer affairs, and interstate commerce issues, will put Upton in a powerful position amongst ascendent House Republicans.

While running for the key position, Upton wooed Republican leaders and rank and file alike by pledging to stick to conservative principles and work to roll back the health care law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010.

“I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, Whip McCarthy and the entire Republican Conference as we repeal Obamacare, fight rampant job-killing regulations, cut spending and help put folks back to work,” Upton said in a statement today.

In winning the gavel, Upton edges out Joe Barton of Texas, the current ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committe, who challenged Upton for the gavel despite Republican caucus rules over term limits which would have normally prevented Barton from taking over the panel. Rep. Barton whoe previously served as chairman of the committee and acted as key author of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, became ranking member on the panel when Republicans lost control of the House in 2006.

Rep. Cliff Sterns of Florida and John Shimkus of Illinois also jossled for the post following Republicans gains in the November mid-term elections.

Despite Upton’s turn to the right in pursuite of the gavel, he may be the most friendly of the committee contendors for clean energy interests (a relative statment to be sure).

While Upton opposed cap and trade legislation in the 111th Congress, casting it as many in the GOP did as a “national energy tax,” he has supported an “all of the above” strategy to enhance U.S. energy security that would include a role for renewable energy as well as nuclear power, carbon capture and storage technology, and expanded production of conventional fossil fuels.

Writing on his Congressional website, Rep. Upton declares:

“I strongly believe everything must be on the table as we seek to reduce carbon emissions – particularly renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, nuclear power and clean coal technologies. The potential for renewable wind energy in southwest Michigan is especially great – not only for our local energy supply, but for our local economy as well.

Elsewhere, Utpon writes, “Climate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions.” While he derides cap and trade legislation as “a job killer” and “not the answer,” he also declares, “We have a unique opportunity and a responsibility to reduce emissions and preserve our economy.”

While these statements may strike many environmental champions as lukewarm and empty, contrast Upton’s position to Rep. Barton, who has made much of his open skepticism of climate change science, and, if he won the gavel, promised to wage war with the Environmental Protection Agency as the agency worked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through new regulations.

As chairman, Upton is unlikely to be any friend to expansive climate legislation, and he is expected to frustrate environmentalists by renewing calls for expanded oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and other protected areas and keeping a close watch on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of the energy industry. The Michigan Republican may be open to compromise legislation, however, which furthers the development and deployment of the low-carbon power sources, efficient technologies, and electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles that may ultimately limit climate-destabilizing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Republican Steering Committee’s selection of Rep. Upton tonight must now be ratified by the full Republican caucus, a vote that is expected to occur tomorrow morning.

You can read more about Upton’s positions on energy and climate change at his Congressional website here, and more on his positions as likely incoming chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee here.

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