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Landrieu to be chair of Senate energy committee

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is moving to a new position in Congress, leading the powerful Senate committee that deals with energy policy and mineral leasing, a key panel for one of Louisiana's top industries.

Senate Democrats voted Tuesday to name Landrieu chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in a reshuffling of committee leadership after Montana Sen. Max Baucus was appointed U.S. ambassador to China.

The new role comes as Landrieu, a Democrat in her third term, is in a tough re-election fight and could help raise her profile on oil and gas issues important in her home state.

In a statement, Landrieu described the committee as "critical to Louisiana and the nation's economic vitality, job creation and energy security."

Landrieu's office said she'll officially assume the new role Thursday. The senator said she'll focus on job creation and expanding opportunities for domestic energy production.

"When we tap into energy here at home, we produce high-paying jobs right where we need them. These jobs pay the kind of wages and salaries that allow families to buy homes, save for the future and build wealth," Landrieu said.

The last Louisiana senator to hold the energy chairmanship was J. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat, nearly 20 years ago.

Conservation and energy industry associations praised Landrieu's appointment.

"With her strong support, the people of Louisiana have played a major role in America's energy revolution, and her deep understanding of energy issues will continue to serve her well as chairman," American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement.

A group of conservation organizations that included the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society, said Landrieu had been a champion for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta.

But Landrieu also has drawn criticism from environmental groups for her support for quick approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other positions siding with the oil and gas industry.

Environmental organization Oil Change International blasted Landrieu's appointment, calling her "one of Big Oil's closest Democratic allies" and saying she has received $1.5 million in campaign contributions from the fossil fuels industry since she was elected to Congress.

"The Senator would do well to remember that she represents all the citizens of Louisiana who are dealing every day with the health and climate impacts of the petrochemical industry and not simply the corporate donors who are lining her pockets," Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, said in a statement.

Republicans said they don't expect the chairmanship to improve Landrieu's re-election chances in November. They cited a recent poll showing that Louisiana voters didn't place significant importance on seniority in Congress.

Landrieu faces three GOP challengers for the Nov. 4 election: U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, state Rep. Paul Hollis and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness.

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