Upton backed for House energy panel chair

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Representative Fred Upton was chosen by a Republican organizing panel on Tuesday to become the next chairman of the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, considered one of the most power panels in the U.S. Congress.

Pending approval of the full House Republican Conference on Wednesday, Upton of Michigan would head the influential panel that has oversight of energy policy, as well as healthcare and telecommunications.

Upton would replace Democratic Chairman Henry Waxman when Republicans take control of the chamber in January from President Barack Obama’s Democrats.

Shortly after his victory over former committee Chairman Joe Barton, Upton said in a statement: “The Obama administration is on notice -- they will not be allowed to regulate what they have been unable to legislate.”

That comment was likely aimed at the Environmental Protection Agency, which in January could move ahead with new regulations forcing large manufacturers to reduce their carbon dioxide pollution emissions.

There already are bills pending in Congress to stop the EPA rules before they take effect.

Efforts in Congress to enact a climate change law, which were backed by the Obama administration, passed the House in 2009 but failed in the Senate this year.

During the 2009 fight in the House over a climate bill, Upton vigorously opposed it, saying it would worsen unemployment, which already was at high levels in Michigan.

Upton said his top priority would be to repeal the healthcare law enacted this year, which he called “the job-killing Obamacare.”

Healthcare policy is one of the many issues the Energy and Commerce Committee oversees under its jurisdiction.

The congressman, who has a moderate voting record, waged a high-profile campaign for the committee chairmanship in an effort to demonstrate that he supports conservative causes.

Barton, a Texas conservative, angered some House Republican leaders earlier this year when he famously apologized to then-BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward during a congressional hearing over the creation of a $20 billion fund to pay for Gulf oil spill damages.

Underscoring his support for conservative views, Upton has called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, scaling back government aid for renewable energy and voiced opposition to requiring electric utilities to use alternative energy for some of their power generation.

President Barack Obama strongly opposes giving oil companies access to the refuge.

Editing by Philip Barbara and Cynthia Osterman