Six months after officially unveiling the Green the Capitol Initiative, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are touting Congress’ eco-friendly accomplishments — and fending off Republican criticisms of the project.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to Members on Monday, Pelosi and Hoyer said they expect that by the end of the 110th Congress, the House will be the world’s only carbon-neutral legislative body.
“The House is taking real action to reduce green house gases that we hope will serve as an international model,” the pair wrote. “We are looking at all aspects of House operations to green the way we do business.”
Employee transportation, food service, procurement and other areas will be improved to become green, according to the letter. But along with buying new light bulbs and using renewable power, the greening project also has garnered controversy in the past several months, as Republican leaders remain skeptical that the initiative actually has done anything.
“These are more like bumper sticker slogans than real accomplishments for taxpayers and the environment,” said Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Boehner’s staff has hit the greening project hard in recent weeks, most notably in a Nov. 6 talking points memo that labeled the initiative as a waste of money.
Democrats “will burn nearly $4 million in taxpayer dollars to fuel their ‘green power’ initiative this year alone, even though nobody can demonstrate its potential benefits,” the memo reads.
But House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard said he “fundamentally disagrees” with that assessment of the greening project, which he is charged with overseeing.
“I’ve been really excited about the progress that we’re making, creating support for the greening effort amongst all the offices,” Beard said. “You know, you’re changing human behavior here, and trying to change the way you do business.”
Beard’s efforts certainly have the approval of the Democratic leadership. Beard noted that many of the greening efforts — such as buying renewable power and switching from coal to natural gas in the Capitol Power Plant — have been given the official thumbs-up in the House but can’t be implemented until the legislative branch appropriations bill is passed by the Senate.
The CAO’s Green the Capitol office released an official list of greening accomplishments on Tuesday. Among them: replacing 84 vending machines with Energy Star equivalents; reducing cooling fan run-times by 14 percent; activating economizers on air conditioners, cutting their energy use by 20 percent; eliminating styrofoam and plastic food-service items in House cafeterias; and replacing existing cups, takeout containers and utensils with 100 percent compostable items.
But concern also remains among Republicans over one of the CAO’s most touted accomplishments — the $89,000 purchase of carbon offsets from the Chicago Climate Exchange. A spokeswoman for House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) said Beard purchased the credits without waiting until the Government Accountability Office released a report on the CCX, which has been criticized by some environmental groups as ineffective.
“This is nothing more than smoke and mirrors,” Ehlers spokeswoman Salley Collins said of the “Dear Colleague” letter. “What Members should be telling their constituents is that the Democratic leadership has opted to purchase environmental indulgences, and that they get to foot the bill.”
But in the long term, the purchases made now will not only save the planet but also save taxpayer dollars, Beard said.
“Everything we are doing is the 21st century way of doing business,” Beard said.
Efforts will kick up this weekend, when Restaurant Associates takes over as official vendor of House food operations, Beard noted. Along with better meals and more food variety, RA has promised to go green, from getting rid of styrofoam to turning cafeteria waste into eco-friendly composts, Beard said.
“I really think that when we are turning trash into a commercial product and saving money, to me that’s an example of using good, common sense,” Beard said.