Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (Okla.) faces a challenge from long-time committee member John W. Warner (Va.) to be the panel's ranking Republican in the new Congress. Democrats' victories in the Nov. 7 election gave them control of the Senate and its committees next year. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will chair the "EPW" panel.

Warner has been on the committee since 1987, eight years longer than Inhofe, its chairman since 2003. Warner said in a Nov. 17 statement, "As the senior Republican on the EPW Committee, I intend to submit my name for election as the ranking minority member of that panel. I will do so in recognition of established Senate Republican Conference rules and precedents."


The selection is a two-step process: First, EPW panel Republicans are expected to vote on the ranking member in late December or, more likely, in January, a committee staffer says. All Senate Republicans then will vote on the committee's choice. According to Warner, GOP "rules and precedents recognize the seniority of membership on the committee as the principal factor in making such decisions."

But Inhofe said, "I have long been a friend of John Warner; however I think he has misunderstood the rules. I intend to retain my leadership position in Congress, returning as the ranking member of the EPW Committee."

Warner has been chairman of the Armed Services Committee, but GOP rules limit him to six years in that slot, so he would have had to turn over the gavel even if Republicans had retained control of the Senate.