In a nearly unanimous vote, the House this week moved a long-simmering debate over overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act one step closer to closure.
In doing so, the chamber may have also boosted the political fortunes of the House Republican at the center of the tough negotiations, Illinois Rep. John Shimkus.
As he approaches the 20th anniversary of his election to the House, Shimkus ranks among the most senior of his Republican colleagues on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. According to the current roster, only Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) has more seniority among Republicans who haven’t already served as chairman.
However, Shimkus has already shown a willingness to jump the seniority line in pursuit of the energy gavel. In 2010, he was among a handful of Republicans who threw their hats in the ring to lead the panel, before ultimately stepping aside for the current chairman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
In an interview with E&E Daily yesterday, Shimkus confirmed his interest in making another run at the chairmanship in the 115th Congress, when Upton faces GOP term limits that would require him to seek a waiver from his caucus to continue as chairman.
"It’s no secret," Shimkus said of his interest in the chairman’s seat, adding that for now, he’s focused on supporting Upton’s agenda.
"So we’ll deal with the race and other issues when the time comes," he said. "We’re just doing a lot of work through our committee, and we want to stay loyal to Fred."
The Energy and Commerce Committee has indeed been in overdrive in the first six months of the 114th Congress, moving legislation on a multitude of subjects that reflect its broad jurisdictional reach.
As chairman of the Environment and Economy subcommittee, it’s Shimkus’ job to deal with a handful of particularly difficult policy issues, including the TSCA overhaul, legislation responding to U.S. EPA’s final coal ash rule, and the always vexing topic of long-term storage of nuclear waste (see related story).
If his performance is viewed as an audition for the chairmanship, Shimkus passed the first test with flying colors. Not only did the TSCA bill pass on a 398-1 vote this week, but it also drew tempered praise from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who called on Senate Republicans to scrap their own chemical safety overhaul in favor of the version Shimkus negotiated (E&E Daily, June 24).
He was still savoring the victory yesterday, while noting that the measure still has to traverse the Senate floor and bicameral negotiations before crossing the goal line.
But Shimkus also conceded that scoring a slam-dunk bipartisan vote on a contentious issue such as chemical safety helps his case to become chairman.
"There’s a lot of legs of the stool," he said. "Being successful at major public policy is part of the résumé. And I think that was pretty successful."
Another bipartisan victory appears within reach. Shimkus expects the House to take up his coal ash bill sometime after the July 4 recess. That measure advanced through the Energy and Commerce Committee in April with a handful of Democratic votes after Shimkus solicited input from EPA (Greenwire, April 15).
While environmentalists and many Democrats call the bill unnecessary, the Obama administration hasn’t yet been as vocal on the measure as it has with other bills that seek to curb EPA’s powers.
The nuclear waste bill may be another story. Shimkus’ long-standing support for the Yucca Mountain repository has been a thorn in the administration’s side as it looks to move past the fight over the Nevada site, and he said yesterday that the difficulties surrounding the issue have already slowed his legislative push.
"We’re diligent, but we’ve actually intentionally delayed the schedule because there’s too much to handle," he said. "We’ve got to work through some stuff with some friends and make sure we’ve got everybody engaged."
For now, Shimkus said he’s too busy trying to attend to his legislative workload to spend much time thinking about the next Congress.
"I can only do so much," he said, laughing.