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House Passes Measure to Kill Green the Capitol Initiative

Correction Appended

Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) debuted the Green the Capitol Initiative in 2007 to much fanfare, but an early morning amendment attached to a House spending bill looks to bring the program to a quiet end.

Rep. Ed Whitfield’s amendment, which passed without objection at around 2 a.m. Thursday, calls for the House to reduce its salaries and expenses budget by $1.5 million — equal to the initiative’s total annual budget. The money would be added to a deficit-reduction account.

The Kentucky Republican said he didn’t speak with GOP leaders before introducing the amendment to the continuing resolution. An ardent supporter of the coal industry, Whitfield said he has been wary of the program since the 2009 decision to drop coal power in favor of natural gas at the Capitol Power Plant.

More recently, he said he was irritated that employees from the initiative have been contacting Members this year to try to expand their greening efforts to district offices.

If Republicans decided not to renew it, the program could have come to an end by the close of the fiscal year anyway. But Whitfield said he didn’t want to wait.

“I just decided that I wanted to eliminate the entire program,” Whitfield said. “We felt like if we could eliminate the funding in this [bill], that would set the tone and bring it to a close.”

Democrats didn’t challenge the amendment by calling for a roll call vote, but instead let it pass by voice vote. A senior Democratic aide said the program exists at the will of the Speaker, so “it’s not worth engaging in a fight when they could end the initiative at any moment anyway.”

Without the amendment, the spending bill would already reduce the House Chief Administrative Officer’s budget to $121.7 million.

But the cuts called for in the amendment would have to go further than just Green the Capitol.

Since the spending bill comes five months into the fiscal year, money to pay the initiative’s seven employees’ salaries and expenses has already been spent. The CAO would have to find cuts above and beyond the initiative to reach the full $1.5 million.

A spokesman for the CAO said the office doesn’t comment on line items in its budget.

As she took the gavel in the 110th Congress, Pelosi created the Green the Capitol Initiative as a way to make the Capitol complex more energy efficient and eventually carbon neutral. Since, the House has installed low-emission lighting, expanded the recycling program and instituted a compost program, among other projects.

But Republicans have always panned the program as a waste of time and money. House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) scrapped the compost program earlier this month, citing high costs and minimal reduction to greenhouse gas emissions.

The spending bill would also do away with $2.5 million that had been set aside for “energy demonstration projects.” The projects were never carried out.

A spokesman for Pelosi said the program has actually saved $3.2 million over the four years it has been in place.

“Businesses small and large throughout this country are implementing similar efforts to reduce waste, save energy and cut costs,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “Clearly, the Republican majority is not really interested in actually saving money, but scoring political points.”

Correction: Feb. 17, 2011

The article misstated the amount of money set aside for “energy demonstration projects.”