For decades, Congressman John Dingell (D-Dearborn) has used his high ranking on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to oversee legislation key to the state of Michigan and the auto industry.

Now, with Michigan’s economy tanking and the auto industry in shambles, another member of Congress seeks to replace Dingell atop the committee.

Today, Congressman Henry Waxman of California, the Energy and Commerce committee, will challenge the 82-year-old Dingell, who’s served in Congress for 54 years and chairs the committee.

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the matter would be considered by the Democratic Steering Committee this morning and would go before the Democratic Caucus on Thursday. The caucus will have the final vote whether Dingell retains his chairmanship.

Richard Hall, a professor at the Ford School of Public Policy and co-author of “The Committee Assignment Process and the Conditional Nature of Committee Bias,” a book about Congressional committees, said he expects Dingell to hold the chairmanship.

“I’ll be really surprised if Waxman is able to shove Dingell aside,” he said. “Even if he loses in the Steering Committee, it doesn’t mean he will lose in the caucus.”

But Hall said that if Dingell loses his chairmanship, the implications for the state could be far-reaching.

“The Energy and Commerce Committee has a huge jurisdiction, including just about anything that moves or makes noise, anything that’s bought or sold, the air you breathe and much more,” he said. “Summing across all of those issues, Dingell’s representation of Michigan’s interests must be huge.”

Aside from Detroit’s struggling automotive field, which is seeking a $25 billion bailout from Congress, Michigan has an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, the nation’s second-highest.

Waxman announced his intention to seek the chairmanship in a statement released Nov. 5.

“Enacting comprehensive energy, climate and health care reform will not be easy,” Waxman’s statement said. “But my record shows that I have the skill and ability to build consensus and deliver legislation that improves the lives of all Americans.”

Dingell’s chairmanship has allowed him to have significant influence over the committee, which oversees the issues of consumer protection, energy, health care and transportation. Dingell’s biggest critics — mostly environmental groups — believe the state’s longest-serving congressman has acted as a shield for the auto industry by setting lax efficiency standards on cars.

Jodi Seth, the Committee on Energy and Commerce spokeswoman for Dingell, said she was confident Dingell would continue to serve as the committee’s chairman.

“To date, this challenge appears to mainly have engendered an outpouring of support for Mr. Dingell,” she said in an e-mail interview. “Mr. Dingell enjoys support from a diverse range of members within the Democratic Caucus representing different backgrounds, different regions of the country and varying points on the political spectrum.”

Seth said Dingell is the most qualified candidate and he has been reaching out to other members of Congress to make his case.

“Quite simply, his experience, and his legislative expertise make him the best qualified to lead the Committee,” she said. “Mr. Dingell has been an effective Chairman and there really is no basis for this challenge.”

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