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GOP Preaches Caution on Green Plan

Less than two months after the release of a preliminary report on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) new Green the Capitol Initiative, appropriators have approved $3.9 million in new funding for the effort and redirected other dollars so officials can study ways to create a more environmentally friendly House of Representatives.

And while House Republicans say they are supportive of efforts to increase energy efficiency on Capitol Hill, the message they have sent across the aisle is “Proceed with caution.”

The $3.1 billion fiscal 2008 legislative branch appropriations bill approved by House appropriators on Tuesday directs the Architect of the Capitol to move forward with several green projects, including building a new ethanol fuel pump on Capitol Hill (at a cost of $500,000) and installing energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout the House (a $100,000 project).

Another $520,000 will go toward purchasing renewable electrical power from local providers for House needs. But the lion’s share of green-targeted funding will go toward shifting fuel supplies at the Capitol Power Plant (which despite its name provides only steam and chilled water to heat and cool Congressional buildings) from coal to cleaner natural gas. The House is expecting to spend an extra $2.7 million next year to increase the use of natural gas, which produces less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, at the facility.

In addition, the Government Accountability Office and House Chief Administrative Officer both were directed in the bill to conduct energy-efficiency studies at the power plant and various office buildings.

Some Republicans already have lent their support to the Green the Capitol Initiative, and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) even successfully offered an amendment to the bill that lays out a framework for how the House could go about purchasing the carbon offsets it will need to fulfill Pelosi’s plan for operating the House in a carbon-neutral environment by the end of the 110th Congress.

But Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch and co-chairman of the House Renewable Energy Caucus, said, “Some questions do need to be pursued.”

Wamp, who said “there is widespread bipartisan support for trying to be more environmentally efficient,” added that Republicans aren’t entirely satisfied with how the various greening projects were vetted.

He admitted the Green the Capitol Initiative is not a large budgetary issue compared with some other projects, such as the nearly $600 million Capitol Visitor Center, “and in a sense this does come down under the category of the prerogative of the majority.” But, he noted, “it’s the responsibility of the minority to ask the questions. … You have to be careful about sometimes throwing a little bit of money at these issues and then claiming that it’s a real substantive change.”

Wamp specifically questioned whether enough work had been done to show there was an actual need for Capitol Hill to have its own ethanol fueling station and whether Democrats had done enough to study the long-term impacts of shifting energy sources at the Capitol Power Plant.

Adding an ethanol pump to the Hill was an effort House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pushed for inclusion in the fiscal 2007 legislative branch bill before the funding measure was rolled into the continuing resolution.

“It is unfortunate that some Members underestimate both the current and future benefits of putting this pump into place,” Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Farnen Bernards said Wednesday. “The various agencies on Capitol Hill use hundreds of vehicles and many of these may run on E85 — including the SUVs used by all members of leadership — but there is no pump close enough for practical use. In fact, it would be neglectful and shortsighted not to put such a pump on the grounds of the Capitol.”

CAO Dan Beard, whom Pelosi has charged with leading the initiative, said the concerns raised with the House greening efforts simply may be the result of Members being used to the slow pace at which legislation usually moves on Capitol Hill.

“We can chew on decisions a long time up here, but I think the Speaker wanted to move quickly with this effort,” Beard said. “The Greening the Capitol Initiative is a blueprint, a foundation for how the Speaker wants to do business over the next five to 10 years. It lays out a roadmap on how we’re going to make the kinds of choices we’re going to have to make and the kinds of business practices we’ll have to follow going forward.”

Beard said the initiative was not developed in a vacuum but with the help of the Department of Energy, private groups and the Architect of the Capitol.

In fact, according to a 2006 annual report on energy and water management released last month by the Architect, the AOC was studying the replacement of incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent lamps in 2006. In that report the AOC also lists the purchase of “green energy” from local providers as a way to promote more effective energy management.

“There’s no one that has said the recommendations that we have put forward are wacky or completely out of line,” Beard said. “They are accepted business practices and ways in which companies and organizations have been doing greening efforts all across the country.

“I have heard some people say, ‘Gee, did you consult with the Architect of the Capitol?’ We did. ‘And did you consult with all the Members?’ And frankly, in a short time frame like this, it’s difficult if not impossible to get around to all 440 Members of the House,” he said.

Beard is expected to unveil a final report on the Green the Capitol Initiative next week that is slated to include an updated set of recommendations for House operations.