Ehlers’ Green Credentials in Dispute

Posted July 21, 2008 at 6:04pm

An environmental lobbying group is turning against Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), claiming that his criticism of the House’s greening initiatives is a sign that he’s not as environmentally friendly as his reputation suggests.

In a letter sent last week, Friends of the Earth asked the League of Conservation Voters to withdraw its endorsement of Ehlers. An LCV spokesman said the group did not yet have a response.

In the letter, Friends President Brent Blackwelder cited Ehlers’ “irresponsible and unjustified attack” on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) efforts to green the House’s operations.

“It’s something you would have thought Ehlers would be cheering,” Blackwelder said in an interview. “Instead he seems to be launching an attack.”

Blackwelder said that improvements can be made to the greening project but that Ehlers seems “preoccupied with finding fault.”

“Why do we need more people up there who, instead of leading, are being a roadblock?” he said.

Ehlers spokeswoman Salley Collins declined to answer Blackwelder’s comments.

“I’m not going to dignify those false claims with a response,” she said in an e-mail.

Ehlers is one of the rare Republicans who has long had the support of the environmental community. The LCV gave him a 70 percent rating on its 2007 Environmental Scorecard, a report that ranks Members based on their votes.

Most recently, Ehlers introduced a renewal for the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which funds cleanup efforts in 31 areas around the Great Lakes. And LCV cited his support of “wind, solar, biomass, and hydro power” in the group’s endorsement.

But in the past year, Ehlers has also criticized the way Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard has handled Pelosi’s “Green the Capitol” initiative, which aims to make the House carbon-neutral. As ranking member of the House Administration Committee, Ehlers helps oversee such projects.

Last fall, Ehlers wrote a letter to Beard expressing his “deep concerns” about Beard’s intention to spend about $89,000 to buy carbon offsets from the private Chicago Climate Exchange.

“As I have expressed to you directly, using our limited House resources for purchases where the measure of return is so dubious makes me very wary,” Ehlers wrote.

Instead, he wanted Beard to wait until the Government Accountability Office finished a report on carbon offsets markets. But Beard went ahead and bought the offsets. The GAO report still hasn’t been released.

Most recently, Ehlers questioned the CAO’s contract with Restaurant Associates, which runs the House cafeterias. One of the provisions allows RA to subtract the cost of certain greening efforts — such as biodegradable cups — from the profits it hands over to the House.

Ehlers criticized the CAO for not clearing the change with the House Administration Committee, even though RA has already subtracted about $227,000 from the $362,000 that was originally supposed to go to the House.

Blackwelder also pointed to a provision in the fiscal 2008 appropriations bill that directs Beard to buy offsets.

Ehlers, he claims, is throwing “a bunch of procedural” obstacles rather than giving constructive criticism. And he questioned why Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had also criticized the project.

“How much do they have to keep chewing on this thing?” he said.

Blackwelder conceded that the carbon offsets market is far from perfect. A “fair criticism” is that it needs more guidelines and regulations, he said, but the market also needs support as it grows.

One of the main challenges is to ensure that the money goes to environmental projects that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise, he said. For example: If the market gave the money to a group planting trees, would the trees have been planted without that money?