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GAO: Leg. Branch Emissions on the Rise

While Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) recently unveiled “Green the Capitol” initiative gave a snapshot of carbon emissions for the House of Representatives, a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office paints a broader picture of the greenhouse gases released by the entire legislative branch.

According to the GAO numbers, the House alone accounts for about 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the legislative branch. When the Senate and various support agencies are added in, about 316,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions were created by legislative branch operations in fiscal 2006. That total is equivalent to the emissions produced by about 57,455 cars. It also represents an increase of about 4 percent, or about 12,400 metric tons, from the average annual quantity emitted in fiscal years 1998 to 2001, according to the GAO report.

In the past seven years, the legislative branch had one notable decrease in its emissions. From fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2004 greenhouse gases dropped 6 percent when the Architect of the Capitol briefly purchased renewable energy from its local provider for an eight-month period of time.

Like House emissions, the overall legislative branch’s greenhouse gas emissions come from two main sources: 63 percent of emissions come from the consumption of purchased electricity and 32 percent come from the combustion of fossil fuels, including coal, in the Capitol Power Plant, which provides steam and chilled water to most legislative branch buildings.

Commissioned last year by members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, the GAO report not only inventories the greenhouse gas emissions produced by Congress and its various agencies — including the Library of Congress, Architect of the Capitol, Government Printing Office, Congressional Budget Office and GAO itself — but it also identifies several strategies for reducing those emissions.

Coming up with a baseline for emissions is important, the study notes, because while agencies within the executive branch of government have, in recent years, responded to executive orders to inventory their greenhouse gas emissions and set targets for reductions, “legislative branch agencies have not been required to inventory their emissions or implement an overall emissions reduction strategy, and they have not undertaken any comprehensive voluntary efforts.”

As the title of the report notes, “Energy Audits Are Key to Strategy for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” The GAO is recommending that the agencies that manage the operations of the legislative branch establish a schedule for routinely conducting energy audits to identify and evaluate energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects and justify Congressional investments.

Other specific recommendations made by the GAO include curtailing energy use in Congressional buildings through employee education, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and equipment, purchasing renewable energy from local providers, adjusting the fuel mixture used at the Capitol Power Plant and purchasing energy offset credits.

Many of the GAO’s recommendations mirror those advocated by House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, who developed Pelosi’s “Greening the Capitol” report. Pelosi’s initiative took the step of setting a goal of operating the House in a “carbon neutral” environment by the end of the 110th Congress.

The GAO report explores the possibility of acquiring fuel-efficient or alternative fuel vehicles for the legislative branch’s fleet (excluding the Capitol Police Department) of 323 cars, trucks and vans.

One energy reduction program instituted by the GPO is a goal-sharing plan that splits the cost savings realized from energy curtailment efforts equally between the agency and its employees. According to the GPO, fiscal 2006 energy savings amounted to $558,604, for an estimated award of $126.27 per employee.

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