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John Dingell

U.S. House of Representatives for the state of Michigan (1955-2014)

Describing himself as “the runt of the litter” in his class when elected to Congress in a special election in 1955, John Dingell of Michigan became the longest serving congressmen ever and a leader on environmental issues. Asked to choose a single accomplishment as his favorite, he picks the enactment of NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. He worked with Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson to enact an enduring statement of U.S. environmental policy and a rigorous process to evaluate the environmental impacts of major federal actions. The law opened up decisionmaking to public participation and has served as a model for many U.S. states and foreign countries in their own legislation.

In addition to his work on the national pollution control and hazardous waste cleanup laws through the Public Works Committee, Dingell also led committees on Merchant Marine and Fisheries that developed marine mammal protection and ocean dumping legislation. As a strong advocate for the U.S. auto industry so prominent in his district, he maintained that his job was to make sure that strong auto emissions standards would be met without degrading vehicle operation for customers. Dingell always focused not only on getting legislation on the books but monitoring whether statutory programs were adequately funded. As an oversight committee chair, he issued inquiries referred to as “Dingell-grams” to agencies like EPA probing how they were implementing their programs.

He has little patience with new people who come to Washington, D.C., having won office by denouncing Congress and is a full-throated defender of the U.S. system of government, its economy, and a “regulatory system that regulates well and yet allows the system to function.” Dingell considers himself lucky to have been elected by “wonderful people” to Congress where he could “do and see, learn, and participate in things that are important to them and to me and my kids and grandkids.” He retired in 2014 and was succeeded by his wife, Representative Deborah Dingell.