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House’s ‘Green’ Road Map Unveiled Today

At a ceremony today on the steps of the House of Representatives, the House Chief Administrative Officer will unveil a road map for achieving the environmentally conscious goals of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) new Green the Capitol Initiative.

In her push to reduce House carbon emissions and make the House of Representatives a model of sustainability, Pelosi has set two major milestones. The first is for the House to operate in a carbon-neutral environment by the end of the 110th Congress. The second is to reduce House energy consumption by 50 percent within the next 10 years.

Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard was charged by Pelosi earlier this year with finding a way to achieve those goals, and in his report he lays out a number of strategies to reduce the House’s carbon footprint. Some of those ideas already are included in the legislative branch funding bill that is moving through the House.

“Environmental responsibility is our duty to future generations,” Beard notes in an executive summary of the report that will be released today. “Now is the time to act to reduce our energy consumption as well as our energy dependence. To accomplish this, we will change the way we do business. A sustainable House Capitol complex will recognize the full environmental impact of our decisions on energy and water consumption, materials use and the quality of our workplace.”

Beard notes in the report that the most immediate step must be reducing the approximately 91,000 tons of carbon emission produced by the House of Representatives each year. To achieve carbon neutrality within the next 18 months, Beard recommends purchasing House electricity from only renewable sources; switching from coal, oil and gas fuel at the Capitol Power Plant to natural gas only; and purchasing carbon offsets for fossil fuel usage that cannot be immediately replaced.

Implementing the first two recommendations would leave 24,000 tons of carbon emissions that the House would need to offset, and Beard is recommending that “carbon credits” be purchased through the Chicago Climate Exchange program, which would use the money specifically for projects in the United States.

“A memorandum of agreement has been executed with Chicago Climate Exchange to initiate this action,” Beard writes in his report. “The cost of offsetting 24,000 tons of greenhouse gases is estimated to be approximately $95,000.”

Beard states that the longer-term goal of reducing House energy use by 50 percent in the next decade is not only achievable but also a wise investment for the House. That’s because the costs associated with reducing energy consumption in House buildings, and the Capitol Power Plant in particular, will soon begin to start paying for themselves.

“The Capitol Power Plant is the largest single source of carbon emissions on the Hill,” Beard writes. “It is important for Congress to take a leadership role in modernizing and updating this facility.”

And while that effort could take several years, Beard writes that steps such as improving steam and chilled water production efficiency and improving distribution systems could begin immediately.

In advance of the release of the full Green the Capitol Initiative, Republican leaders on administrative issues have circulated letters and issued statements urging House Democratic leaders to be cautious in their planning and financing of new initiatives. Some Republicans are particularly troubled about the House investing in the relatively new market of carbon offsets.

Earlier this week, House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) asked that Beard and acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers not dismiss the “greening” efforts that have taken place in the House over the past 12 years, which he says have helped lower energy usage and carbon emissions.

A House Democratic leadership aide on Wednesday said of Ehlers’ letter: “We welcome bipartisan support of this initiative, but the bottom line is during their time in the majority the Republican leadership did very little to make the Capitol green. It begs the question, ‘How many Republicans does it take to screw in a light bulb?’ The answer is ‘one Democrat: Speaker Pelosi.’”

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