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Leaders Pledge a Carbon-Neutral House by End of 110th

Just in time for Earth Day, Democratic leaders announced today a commitment to operate the House of Representatives in a carbon-neutral manner by the end of the 110th Congress.

That means House leaders and administrative officials will have to find a way to eliminate the impact of some 91,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, the equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 17,200 automobiles.

“The environmental challenges we face are as local as our neighborhoods and as global as our planet,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “The House must lead by example and it is time for Congress to act on its own carbon footprint.”

This afternoon, House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard presented Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) — who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch — a preliminary report containing several recommendations for the “Green the Capitol” initiative.

The initiative, which already was receiving high praise from environmental groups Thursday afternoon, includes a plan to shift to 100 percent renewable electric power and ideas for using government dollars to offset the carbon emissions of the coal-burning Capitol Power Plant, which despite its name only supplies steam and chilled water to the Capitol complex.

The purchase of electricity from local power companies accounts for the large majority (63 percent) of the House’s carbon emissions, according to the Government Accountability Office. And while 53 percent of that power comes from coal, less than 10 percent comes from renewable sources.

“In order to achieve our goal of making our operations carbon neutral, my office, working with the Architect of the Capitol, should negotiate to purchase 100 percent of our electricity needs (approximately 103,000 megawatt-hours per year) from renewable sources at the earliest possible date,” Beard wrote in his report.

And while Beard notes that the cost of electric power generated from renewable sources can be up to 20 percent more than power generated from traditional sources, the increase in cost would be offset over the long run by the House’s energy conservation and energy efficiency plans.

One of those plans includes converting all 12,000 desk lamps in the House to compact fluorescent lamps within six months. Beard estimated that effort would result in the equivalent of removing 255 cars from the road and would yield $245,000 in annual savings in electric power costs.

The Capitol’s second largest greenhouse gas producer is the aging Capitol Power Plant, which Beard called an “old and inefficient” structure.

While Beard said his office will continue to study the power plant for a more complete report that will be released in late June, he put forth two plans for offset its carbon footprint. The first plan would include purchasing offset credits in the domestic market for the 34,000 tons of greenhouse emissions the plant produces each year. The second option would be to contribute a per-ton payment of carbon dioxide equivalents and placing the funds in a “Green Revolving Fund” to be used to directly mitigate the plant’s emissions.

Reporters noted at Pelosi’s press conference Thursday that the “Greening the Capitol” initiative is really only a “greening half the Capitol” initiative since there is no equivalent program on the Senate side.

Pelosi responded that the House hopes to lead not just the country but the Capitol as a whole in its carbon neutral effort.

“I needed to calculate our contributions first and deal with some of the things on this side of the Capitol and then we’ll be able to … have a pretty intelligent discussion with the Senate about the things we could do together,” Beard noted.

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