This story was updated at 11 a.m. EST.
A potentially bruising battle for the top Democratic slot on the House Natural Resources Committee is looming.
Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) confirmation yesterday as secretary of State could trigger a shakeup at the Natural Resources panel, since current ranking member Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has announced he will run for Kerry's vacant Senate seat.
While it is unclear whether Markey's post on the committee will become available -- he would need to win a potential primary battle with Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and a special election that could include former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) -- Democrats are already sizing themselves up for Markey's shoes on Resources.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who is entering his 27th year on the committee, and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, both told E&E Daily yesterday that they will lobby for Markey's job, should he win his Senate race.
Other Democrats, including Reps. Rush Holt of New Jersey and Grace Napolitano of California, could also vie for the spot, though neither has said whether he or she would actively seek it.
Markey, who has led the committee's Democrats since Republicans took control of Congress in 2010, is considered the Democratic front-runner for Kerry's seat. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) plans to schedule a special election for Kerry's Senate seat on June 25, according to The Boston Globe. A Democratic primary would be held on April 30.
Markey will not be relinquishing his ranking member position while he campaigns.
Democratic leadership atop Natural Resources would be a huge opportunity for either DeFazio or Grijalva, both of whom represent states rich in federal lands, parks and natural resources.
Whoever takes the ranking member post -- if it becomes available -- would likely have an inside lane to become chairman if Democrats take back the House in 2014.
For DeFazio, whose 4th District in Oregon includes the timber-rich O&C Lands and hundreds of miles of Pacific coastline, the committee offers a crucial opportunity to steer federal forest, conservation and energy policy.
"I would be thrilled to lead the Democrats on the committee," DeFazio said. "From my first days in Congress, what was then called the Interior Committee was a major focus for me."
DeFazio said he has experience in almost every issue under the committee's jurisdiction, including forest health and wildfires. During the George W. Bush administration, while Democrats were in the minority, DeFazio helped craft the Healthy Forests Restoration Act to help accelerate the thinning of fire-prone national forests.
"I have some experience in working from the minority productively, where we do have a real common interest," DeFazio said. But bipartisanship was hard to come by in the committee during the 112th Congress, when Democrats played more of a defensive role against Republican efforts to roll back environmental laws.
"Where Republicans are just totally off base, I don't think there are any people better at dismantling their arguments than I am," DeFazio said.
If chosen as ranking member, DeFazio said he would try to get Republicans to agree to more balanced hearings and, if Democrats take back the majority, to pursue a more progressive energy policy.
"We're still living with Bush-Cheney energy policy, which would have been an embarrassment in the 1950s," he said. "I'd want to articulate a vision for a long-term, sustainable, renewable energy policy for the country."
DeFazio said other priorities would include ensuring appropriate federal standards for hydraulic fracturing, reforming century-old mining laws and continuing to force oil and gas companies to use existing leases before opening up more public lands.
DeFazio is second ranking Democrat on both the Natural Resources Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he is currently ranking member of the Highway and Transit Subcommittee. DeFazio may also have a shot at becoming ranking member of T&I if the current top Democrat, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, decides to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
DeFazio said he discussed the Resources ranking member position with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) the day he was sworn in this month, which was around the time rumors started swirling about Markey's Senate run.
The Oregon congressman has also discussed the idea with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who is close with Pelosi and formerly chaired Resources, and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), another high-ranking Democrat on the committee.
DeFazio may not be the first choice among environmentalists, some of whom see him as too pro-logging. His district at times has been the biggest timber producer in the nation.
While he holds a lifetime score of 90 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, DeFazio in June 2009 voted against the "American Clean Energy and Security Act," which was Markey and Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) signature global warming bill. DeFazio at the time warned that the bill would create new speculative markets in carbon allowances and offsets, just as the American economy was struggling to recover.
DeFazio has also introduced bills to designate tens of thousands of acres as wilderness near the Rogue River and in the Devil's Staircase of western Oregon, in addition to proposed protections for old-growth trees.
Grijalva: 'I've earned the opportunity'
Grijalva, who is entering his third term as top Democrat on the committee's public lands panel, said his major focus as full committee ranking member would be to ensure Democratic policy pivots around the issue of climate change.
On the public lands panel, Grijalva said he has helped lead an effective defense of Republican attempts to open protected lands to oil and gas drilling and to erode bedrock environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, which will draw sharp scrutiny during the 113th Congress.
"We have been very effective in keeping the worst from happening. We discredited the other side," keeping nearly all of the Republican bills from passing the Senate, Grijalva said.
He underscored the importance of the committee, which has jurisdiction over roughly one-fifth of American lands and almost all of its oceans.
"It's the committee I chose when I came into Congress 10 years ago. It's the committee I've stayed with," he said. "What Natural Resources does is sometimes underappreciated, but we're stewards of a bunch of issues that affect America and the American people."
Grijalva said he has "earned the opportunity" to vie for the job, and he intends to.
Grijalva, who has a 95 percent lifetime score from LCV, is well-liked in the environmental community, which could play a role in Pelosi's decisionmaking. Environmental groups endorsed Grijalva to become President Obama's first Interior secretary in 2008, but he was later passed over for the more moderate Ken Salazar, who was then a Democratic senator from Colorado.
Grijalva vied for the ranking member position in 2010 but eventually deferred to Markey, who had gained the backing of key environmental groups (E&E Daily, Nov. 18, 2010).
Grijalva, the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is considered a reliable liberal within the Democratic Party, but he has been criticized for not raising enough money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to get fellow Democrats elected.
"It's an unspoken factor, I know that," said Grijalva, who added that he would try his best to meet the fundraising goals expected of ranking members. "I try to give what I can."
Grijalva said he has not yet reached out to Pelosi or other committee members to discuss panel leadership.
Holt, Napolitano unknown
It is entirely possible that Holt, who is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources -- arguably the committee's most prominent panel -- will throw his hat into the ring.
Holt -- a physicist who once defeated "Watson," IBM's computer system, in a simulated game of "Jeopardy" -- is credited for going toe-to-toe with Republicans last Congress on a host of natural resources issues. He also has a reputation for having a deep knowledge of federal policy issues and is quick on his feet.
Some environmentalists have said privately that they would pick him in a three-dog fight with Grijalva and DeFazio.
But Holt, who also holds a 100 percent lifetime score from LCV, has not said whether he wants the job.
"I work very hard on the Resources Committee and will of course be interested to see that Democrats on the committee are led well," he said in an email through a spokesman.
Jerry O'Donnell, spokesman for Napolitano, ranking member on the Water and Power Subcommittee, declined to comment on her potential interest in the ranking member position.
The decision over who would replace Markey -- if it comes to that -- rests first with Pelosi and the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Decisions are typically endorsed by the full Democratic caucus.
DeFazio is considered to have better odds with Pelosi, but Grijalva could have an edge if the issue comes down to the full caucus.
Congressional insiders say the decision is based on much more than seniority.
Factors include candidates' effectiveness both internally and externally, their ability to legislate and to keep troops in line in committee. Candidates are also judged on their floor skills and their effectiveness as public spokespeople for the party.
With Grijalva, Pelosi might see a backlash from the Hispanic Caucus if he is not selected. But campaign fundraising may also be examined, as well as loyalty to leadership.
In some cases, leadership will explore whether a particular state lacks representation among the senior Democratic positions. In the case of Natural Resources, for example, it's unclear whether New Jersey would benefit as much as Arizona or Oregon from having its representative at the top.