In a week that couldn’t have gone much worse for Michigan, the final hit last week came Thursday. That’s when Rep. John Dingell, long a protector of Michigan’s automotive industry, lost his chairmanship on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Though it’s difficult to say this because Dingell has been a great congressman for Michigan and the country, his loss may be a blessing in disguise. While Dingell’s replacement, Rep. Henry Waxman, is not without his flaws, he could usher in an era of much-needed environmental regulation that Dingell was reluctant to support.

As evidenced by the 137-122 vote in the Democratic Caucus, the decision to oust Dingell from his chair on the Energy and Commerce Committee last week wasn’t easy for House Democrats. Dingell, who is soon to become the longest-serving House member in history, has long been a fixture on the key committee. He has been its chairman whenever the Democrats have controlled the House in the last 28 years. During that time, he has lead some of the House’s most important environmental initiatives, including the Clean Air Act revisions.

But Dingell has also had a soft spot for the auto industry, a point that Waxman has rightly zeroed in on. Though he has led many important changes, like last summer’s revisions to national fuel economy standards, Dingell has been particularly lax when it comes to putting the Big Three’s feet to the fire on the environment. There is an obvious reason for that: much of Dingell’s constituency is comprised of people connected to the auto industry. Because of that, Dingell has had to balance his constituent concerns with the environmental policy the country as a whole needs. A majority of House Democrats think Dingell has failed at that job.

Waxman, on the other hand, is supposed to right the imbalance. On matters of energy, health care and climate change, Waxman has shown unwavering support for the Democratic platform. He has also been dedicated to environmental causes, particularly giving the Environmental Protection Agency the power it needs to do its job. He has further promised that, unlike Dingell, he won’t let the judgment of the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman be clouded by industry connections — a claim he can back up from his time as chair on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Overall, Waxman is a decent replacement. While losing Dingell’s powerful support on the committee may be a hard pill for Michigan to swallow, it is better for the country. That’s not to say that Waxman should run roughshod on the automakers, regulating them into nonexistence. Like Dingell, Waxman needs to understand that many lives and families depend on this industry. As Waxman considers important environmental issues like fuel efficient standards, he must find the balance between protecting these people and pushing the Big Three to protect the environment we all live in. Dingell wasn’t quite able to do this, but hopefully Waxman can.

It is tough to see Dingell go. But, in doing so, the state (and the country as well) will see necessary change on matters of alternative energy and the environment.

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