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CVC Watch

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed in her newly announced “Green the Capitol” initiative that the House of Representatives will operate in a carbon-neutral environment by the end of the 110th Congress. [IMGCAP(1)]

On Monday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) pledged to bring the Senate, Library of Congress and all other Congressional buildings on Capitol Hill into carbon-neutral compliance by 2020.

Both plans include the Capitol Visitor Center in their visions for a more environmentally friendly Capitol, but it’s not yet clear which timeframe the CVC would fall under or how much new work would be required for the yet-to-be-completed project to realize those visions.

House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, who is heading up the carbon-neutral initiative for Pelosi, noted last week that when the CVC finally opens, “we won’t just throw the doors open. We’re going to have to offset the energy impact of that facility. … That’s our job.”

But at the same time, the steam and chilled water that will be used at the CVC will be supplied by the Capitol Power Plant, a facility that relies on coal for 49 percent of its output and is one of the Washington, D.C.-area’s largest sources of carbon emissions. According to numbers supplied by Beard’s office, the Capitol Power Plant accounts for one-third of the House’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Beard’s plan calls for finding ways to offset the emissions of the power plant either through purchasing offset credits in the domestic market or contributing a “per ton payment” into a “Green Revolving Fund” that could be used to mitigate the plant’s emissions.

In a statement Monday, Kerry seemed to hint at the possibility of doing away with the Capitol Power Plant altogether, or at the very least finding a new, cleaner way to run the aging facility.

“In the shadow of the nation’s Capitol, we should expect more than a dirty power plant that pollutes the air and our communities,” Kerry said. “It’s time the Congress starts to walk the walk when it comes to fighting climate change and saving energy. The very plant that fuels our offices and the Capitol is contributing to high levels of pollution and affecting families who live in the city.”

Any effort to shift the Capitol Power Plant away from its coal power sources may run into stiff opposition from powerful Congressional leaders like Sen. Robert Byrd (D), who hails from the coal mining state of West Virginia.

But as Congress begins to explore its options for dealing with the impact of the power plant, Members can at least find some comfort in the fact that as the newest addition to the Capitol, the 580,000-square-foot CVC, has numerous environmentally friendly technologies already built in.

“The Capitol Visitor Center was designed to incorporate as many green features as possible within the constraints of its unique security requirements,” said CVC spokesman Tom Fontana.

For example, the new facility incorporates the compact fluorescent lighting fixtures that Beard championed in his report to House Democratic leadership last week. Beard is hoping to replace 12,000 desk lamps on the House side with compact fluorescent lights in the next six months.

Also, the CVC includes “air-side economizers,” an air handling system that uses outside air for cooling in lieu of Capitol Power Plant-supplied chilled water when outdoor temperatures are 60 degrees or below.

In many of the CVC’s interior spaces, including the facility’s 26 restrooms, motion sensors trigger the light fixtures to cut down on energy usage. Outside the CVC, a storm-water management system was incorporated into the design of the facility to mitigate the impact of runoff and sediment into the city’s storm sewer system.

And throughout the construction of the facility, the AOC has committed to recycling 50 percent of construction waste by weight.

“I would say that if we were going to make any changes, the CVC would be the last place we would start to make those changes,” Beard said. “We have so many places, either on the House side of the Capitol or in the Cannon, Longworth, Rayburn and Ford buildings, where we need to make retrofits and changes that we would start there before we started on the CVC. The other buildings are older and need more work.”

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