Campus Notebook: Senate Looks at Electric Cars

Posted April 6, 2012 at 5:14pm

The Senate appears close to passing a bill that would establish battery-recharging stations for lawmaker- and employee-owned electric and hybrid cars on Capitol Hill.

But concerns about costs, and whether Congress should incentivize buying alternative-fuel vehicles, could stand in the way. The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), would task the Architect of the Capitol with designating electric-car recharging stations in Senate garages.

“This bill would ensure that Senate employees have … the infrastructure to support next-generation vehicles,” Levin said in his introduction of the bill on the Senate floor nearly a year ago. “It would provide an example to other employers of how they can support … the needs of their employees and our national interest in energy security.”

The measure appeared on track for passage by unanimous consent before Congress broke for the Easter recess, but a senior Democratic aide confirmed to Roll Call that a hold from the Republican side of the aisle derailed that attempt. It’s unclear who placed the hold and why.

An aide for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said he understood that the hold was due to lack of information and fear that the initiative would be costly.

The bill would not cost taxpayers anything, Alexander’s aide stressed — as did co-sponsor Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and a Levin aide.

“This is a smart way for the Senate to point the way to an energy-independent future at no cost to the taxpayer,” Schumer said in a statement.

Lawmakers and staffers charging electric car batteries on Senate property would have to pay the AOC a usage fee each month, they said. This would ensure that electricity consumed by only a small number of people wouldn’t be lumped into the government’s larger monthly electric bill.

And while the Congressional Budget Office originally estimated it would cost $6,000 to install six charging stations in the Senate garage, Alexander’s aide said that was the cost for installing only one type of system. The AOC, he said, is now exploring a cheaper option: designate six parking spaces located near outlets as reserved for electric cars only and require the car owners to bring their own extension cords and plugs.

In this case, the AOC would only have to front the cost of designating the spaces, monitoring that the spaces are being used correctly, collecting monthly fees and writing reports on the initiative’s progress (as the legislation requires).

Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the AOC, said the office does not comment on pending legislation.

The current expectation is that the bill will be passed at some point during the Senate’s next work period.

On the House side, however, the legislation has a less certain future.

Alexander’s aide said the bill, which deals only with Senate property, will likely get House passage in keeping with a tradition in which one side defers to the other side’s chamber-specific priorities.

But Dave Holtz, a spokesman for Rep. Dale Kildee, is not so sure. The Michigan Democrat has introduced legislation that would put electric-car charging stations in House garages, and it has seen no movement so far.

Holtz said that while passage of the Senate bill could compel House leadership to take up Kildee’s bill, the chamber’s caucus of very conservative Republicans is likely to wield its influence against promoting electric cars — and spending any money on them — in either side of the Capitol.

Library of Congress Lactation Center Opens

Several months in the making, the first of two lactation centers at the Library of Congress is open for business.

Nan Ernst, chief steward for the LOC’s professional guild, announced Friday that the Madison Building’s center opened last month to the cheers of “about 40 employees.”

The former staff lounge was transformed into a lactation center by the AOC, as designed by LOC’s facility services department. The center, which provides “a private, secure and sanitary environment for nursing mothers,” is accessible through an enrollment process with the Health Services Office.

“I am so proud of the Library of Congress for dedicating resources to working mothers and opening this wonderful facility,” Ernst told Roll Call.

Construction of a lactation facility in the John Adams Building is in the planning stages.

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