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Ehlers Takes Issue With Pelosi’s Capitol Greening Initiative

Just days before Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unveils a full report on her much-touted Green the Capitol Initiative, a second Republican leader on administrative issues is calling for top Democrats to be cautious in their planning and not to dismiss the “greening” efforts that have taken place in the House over the past 12 years.

In a letter sent to acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers and House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, whom Pelosi tapped to lead the initiative, House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) said that the goal of achieving greater energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important — but not new on Capitol Hill.

“In the past twelve years, significant investments have resulted in major efficiency gains in the Capitol complex, and in the House of Representatives in particular. Because of these investments … the House’s indexed energy usage and carbon emissions are lower now than in 1996.”

In particular, Ehlers praised the Architect of the Capitol’s efforts in recent years to achieve the goals of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which requires the agency to have a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption per gross square foot (based on fiscal 2003 levels) by 2015.

Ehlers said Congress’ latest efforts, outlined in a preliminary report Beard released in April, “will undoubtedly require difficult decisions and a focus on long-term and costly capital initiatives.”

But, he reminded the House officers, “as you approach these decisions, it is important to not forget that we are stewards of taxpayer dollars. We have a responsibility to ensure a methodical approach to the allocation of resources, and to ensure that actions are taken within the bounds of Appropriations law, House Rules and established procurement guidelines.”

A Republican aide familiar with the report said the GOP skepticism with the Green the Capitol Initiative is based on concern that Beard has not been given enough time to fully study long-term impacts of the effort. Pelosi first directed Beard to develop a series of preliminary recommendations for review on March 1 of this year.

“We fully support efforts to achieve greater energy efficiency and sustainability in the Capitol complex, but we’re not going to get where we need to be in a short 18 months,” the aide said of Pelosi’s stated goal to have the House operate in a carbon neutral environment by the end of the 110th Congress.

Meanwhile, the aide said, the possibility that the House soon could be purchasing carbon offset credits in the domestic market also raises some troubling questions.

“We fear that a misplaced focus on the short term will lead to buying these indulgences from an unregulated market that many have deemed conventional charities, and a declaration of victory, which does little to address the long-term structural changes that will be required of the Congress,” the staffer said. “We need a fiscally responsible investment strategy that delivers real energy efficiency, and not an optical solution to a real problem.”

Ehlers reminded Beard and Ayers in his letter that the challenges facing the Capitol complex “cannot be solved immediately” but should be solved in a bipartisan way.

“As you continue to develop your strategy to ensure that the Capitol operates in the most energy efficient manner possible, we look forward to receiving a bi-partisan briefing on your efforts to build on the foundation of more than a decade of environmental reforms put in place by your predecessors with the support of leadership on both sides of the aisle.”

On Tuesday, Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the newly installed chairman of the House Administration Committee, said he appreciated Ehlers’ support to “extend the Greening of the Capitol beyond the efforts of the past.”

Brady said the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), the former chairwoman of the committee, joined Pelosi in the original request “that the CAO initiate a more aggressive greening effort, and I fully intend to continue that initiative. Along with Representative Ehlers, I look with anticipation to [Thursday’s] announcement of the CAO’s final Greening of the Capitol report.”

Last week, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, preached caution on the initiative and claimed that some options already presented were not fully vetted in a bipartisan manner.

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