Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is poised to take the chairmanship of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, as current Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) is expected to move over to the coveted Defense subpanel.
The reshuffling comes after the death earlier this week of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) due to complications from gallbladder surgery.
Dicks, who is the next most senior Democrat on the Defense Subcommittee, will "likely succeed" his friend Murtha at that position, said his chief of staff George Behan.
Dicks served with Murtha on the Defense subpanel for 31 years, Behan noted. "He is the most experienced person, and I think reluctantly will be tasked with that assignment," Behan said.
The final decision is up to the Democratic caucus and the Appropriations Committee, Behan noted.
Moran will likely take over the subcommittee that shapes the budgets of the Interior Department, U.S. EPA and Forest Service if the decision is made by strict seniority, Behan added.
"It's somewhat premature [because] the caucus has to concur, and we're just in the immediate aftermath of Mr. Murtha's death," Behan said. "So it's hard to make a definitive statement, but that's the way we expect it to go."
Austin Durrer, Moran's chief of staff, confirmed that the lawmaker is likely to take the Interior Appropriations spot.
"But those discussions can wait," Durrer added. "The congressman is mourning the loss of his good friend Chairman Murtha."
The possibility of Moran as chairman drew praise from environmentalists.
Franz Matzner of the Natural Resources Defense Council said Dicks has been a stalwart champion for the environment and that his group expects nothing else from Moran. "I think he would make an excellent chairman if that's the way these things work out, and we'll be happy to work with him," Matzner said.
Likewise, Alan Rowsome of the Wilderness Society praised Dicks' work and said he expects a smooth transition to Moran. "He's a champion on the environment and has been on the committee for a while," Rowsome said. "As such I think he's a great choice."
Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, noted that much of the Interior subpanel's jurisdiction focuses on Western lands. "And so I'm sure that Congressman Moran will have a great deal of need to familiarize himself more extensively with the issues out in the West than he would naturally be exposed to in Virginia," Fuller said.
Fuller also noted that Virginia has been one of the Eastern Atlantic states most interested in developing its offshore resources. The subcommittee manages the budget of the Interior agency that oversees offshore drilling.
"It'll be interesting to see how he handles the support in Virginia for developing the offshore," Fuller said. "One of the key questions will be how he relates to the state interest."