Congressman Henry Waxman has been named to a powerful House committee that will oversee energy policy and global warming in the Barack Obama Administration.

Waxman, who has been a member of Congress since 1979 and represents Santa Monica, was elected by the Democratic Caucus to the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce November 20th. He will replace John Dingell of Michigan, who held the chairmanship for several years.

“I am honored by the vote of the Democratic Caucus generation,” Waxman said in a statement shortly after his election. “We are at a unique moment and have an opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime. I will work with all parts of our caucus and across the aisle to deliver the change that the American public expects us to deliver.”

Waxman had made it known that he wanted to become the committee chairman following the election of President-elect Obama. Dingell, whom some members of Congress and environmental organizations felt was not as in tune as the California congressman with global warming issues and higher environmental standards, lost a 25-22 vote of his caucus colleagues.

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown applauded the news that Waxman would be the chairman of such an important committee.

“As a California environmentalist, I’m heartened that Henry Waxman will carry California’s clean air and reduced emissions policies to the national level at the Committee on Energy and Commerce,” McKeown wrote in an e-mail to The Argonaut. “With Waxman at the helm of that committee, we all can literally breathe easier.”

Waxman is the author of the recently reintroduced Safe Climate Act of 2006, which would set emissions targets to alleviate dangerous, irreversible global warming. He was one of the primary authors of the 1990 Clean Air Act, which set out a comprehensive program to combat smog, acid rain, toxic air emissions, and ozone depletions.

Jeremy Pal, a professor of engineering and environmental science at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester who has written extensively on global warming, believes that Waxman’s position at the head of the committee will lead to a much-needed stronger focus on global warming.

“Along with President-elect Obama, this will certainly steer the U.S. in the right direction of addressing the problem of climate change and our foreign dependence on oil,” Pal told The Argonaut in an interview. “It shows that our representatives are finally ready to do something about climate change.”

Santa Monica Baykeeper, a Marina del Rey-based environmental organization, praised Waxman as an elected official who has been at the forefront of the environmental movement since he has been a member of Congress.

“We’re very happy that Waxman is on any environmental committee, and especially this panel,” said Mark Abramson, Santa Monica Baykeeper’s director of watershed programs. “He’s been very progressive on environmental and energy issues.”

Charlotte Stevenson of Heal the Bay concurs.

“We are so happy that he is in this new position,” said Stevenson, a staff scientist at the Santa Monica-based environmental nonprofit organization. “He has been a leader on so many issues that are important to us.”

“Waxman’s victory is a breath of fresh air — of clean air. It was a stunning defeat for the corporate lobbyists on K Street,” added Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “It shows that a majority of the House Democrats are ready to work with the incoming Obama Administration on effective global warming legislation.”

Pal said that making progress on climate change has critical economic benefits as well.

“Many people don’t realize that our lack of action on climate change hurts our economy,” the LMU professor, who was one of the contributing authors on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC), an international collaboration of scientists that shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, noted. “With Waxman and Obama, we are in a position to help stimulate our economy through energy technology and new jobs.”

Not everyone was thrilled with Waxman’s ascent to the committee.

“This decision sends a troubling signal from a majority that has promised to govern from the center,” said House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio. “They moved away from Chairman Dingell because he is committed to approaching energy and environmental issues in a manner that protects American jobs.”

Waxman said that he respects his congressional colleague, even though their approaches to energy policy differ greatly.

“I have worked with Chairman John Dingell for 34 years. He has been a true legislative champion,” said the new House chairman. “I will always admire and respect him and his many legislative accomplishments.”

Waxman will take over his committee duties in January, when the new Congress is sworn in.