John Dingell, Retiring From Congress, Fought For Environmental Causes Since Before Carbon Was Measured

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. poses for a photograph inside his office on Capitol Hill in 2009. CREDIT: MANUEL BALCE CENETA
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. poses for a photograph inside his office on Capitol Hill in 2009. CREDIT: MANUEL BALCE CENETA

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a Dearborn, Michigan Democrat and the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, announced Monday that he is retiring from Congress after 59 years. He succeeded his father, John Dingell Sr., winning a special election in 1955 at the age of 29, and has since been reelected 29 times.

Dingell, 88, who is one of only two World War II veterans in Congress, chaired the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee for 14 years, from 1981–1994 and 2007–2008. In 2009 he was replaced by California Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a well-respected proponent of environmental causes who also recently announced his retirement from Congress. Waxman gave Dingell the title Chairman Emeritus of the Energy and Commerce Committee upon replacing him, and Dingell continued to play an active role in the committee’s decisions.

“John Dingell has had a legendary career in the House and left an enormous mark on the institution and the nation,” Waxman said in a statement released today. “He has been an exceptional leader on health care and energy policy and has made America a healthier and more prosperous nation.”

While Waxman has a nearly unclouded record of pushing for environmental and climate initiatives, Dingell has met with some controversy in his nearly 60-year career. He has fought against increased fuel-efficiency standards in the past arguing that they would harm the economy — especially that of his home state of Michigan. However he has since supported the Obama Administration’s efforts to improve fuel efficiency by providing the auto industry a national standard rather than a patchwork of state regulations. According to The Hill, Dingell’s wife, Democratic National Committee member and former General Motors executive Debbie Dingell, will run for his seat, which is considered a safe bet for Democrats in this year’s election.


Dingell has contributed greatly to environmental and climate causes throughout his career in Congress, which commenced a year before Charles David Keeling started measuring carbon dioxide concentrations from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in 1956 — leading to some of the first evidence of the rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere contributing to climate change, and all ensuing efforts to mitigate the impacts by reducing GHGs.

Upon Obama’s announcement of his Climate Action Plan last summer, Dingell said “It has been my belief that broad efforts to combat climate change and protect our environment are badly needed.” However he expressed disappointment with Congress’s inability to act on the matter, calling it “a sad commentary on the dysfunction of our country’s legislative branch, particularly the House of Representatives,” and further stating that it’s time “Congress acts on its mandate and works with the President in a common sense, bipartisan manner to protect our air, land, and water.”

During his time in Congress, Dingell successfully pursued a number of important measures protecting the country’s environment and natural resources. Here is a list of some of those major accomplishments:

  • He was an architect of the 1972 Clean Water Act, which has helped protect waterways from pollution for more than 40 years.
  • He authored the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which made America the first country in the world to condemn human-caused extinction of other species as illegal. It has since been credited with saving hundreds of plants and animals from the brink of extinction.
  • He wrote the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, which requires federal agencies to consider the environmental consequences of developmental projects before they are built. The legislation has been emulated by many other countries, and it sometimes referred to as “Magna Carta” of environmental law.
  • He helped establish the first international wildlife refuge in North America, the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge. One of his proudest achievements, the refuge has been protecting and conserving habitat for over 60 kinds of fish and 300 species of migratory birds since 2001.
  • He worked to help craft the 1990 Clean Air Act, although he was at times accused of stalling for the benefit of the auto industry.
  • He played a major role in the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The MMPA uses an ecosystem approach to natural resource management and conservation, and prohibits the taking of marine mammals.
  • He was one of the first elected politicians to openly support a carbon tax or fee to mitigate climate change, and in 2007 he even proposed his own bill. However, many doubted his intentions, arguing that the bill made the cost seem insurmountable to consumers by including things like a $0.50 gas tax.
  • He played integral roles in many other important energy and environmental bills, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments 1986 and 1996, Pollution Prevention Act 1990, Energy Policy Act of 1992, National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1978 and Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. For a more in-depth list of his environmental record visit his Congressional website’s energy and environmental page.

“Thirty-five years ago, the United States had virtually no laws in place to protect the environment,” Dingell said in the recent past. “Private individuals, industry and governments could burn into the air, pump into the water, or dump onto the ground virtually anything — with impunity. Some of my proudest achievements during my service in Congress are having played a part in writing some landmark environmental protection statutes.”