WASHINGTON BUREAU — Sen. Christopher Dodd has decided to stay on as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee rather than succeeding Sen. Edward Kennedy as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

“I will continue to lead the fight in the Senate for financial regulatory reform and consumer protection,” Dodd, D-Conn., says in a statement.

Congressional sources said Dodd’s announcement could clear the way for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, current chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to succeed Kennedy, D-Mass., as head of the HELP Committee.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., a member of the Democrats’ fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, could end up heading the Agriculture Committee.

The Banking Committee is still working on many issues stemming from the current financial crisis, including questions about the scope of federal involvement in insurance regulation, executive compensation, and resolution of problems at large, non-bank financial services companies.