Skip to content

Campus Notebook: Positive Report Card for Waste-to-Energy Program

It’s been a little less than a year since Congress began burning 90 percent of its trash for energy, and the Architect of the Capitol is in the mood to brag.

On Friday, the AOC announced that over the first nine months, 3,700 tons of  nonrecyclable solid waste from Congressional facilities has been hauled by Urban Service Systems Corp. to Covanta, a waste-to-energy plant in Alexandria, Va. AOC Stephen Ayers said in a statement that by the end of the year, the volume of waste is expected to reach 5,000 tons.

“Congress has made huge strides to improve our environmental sustainability,” said House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.).

“I applaud the Architect of the Capitol for his ongoing efforts to improve energy conservation throughout the Capitol complex,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Waste-to-energy refers to the process of burning trash to produce electricity, in this case powering homes throughout the Alexandria area. Advocates say it’s a more environmentally friendly form of trash disposal than sending garbage to landfills.

The positive report is good news for the House Administration and Senate Rules and Administration committees, which approved the 17-month contract with Urban Service Systems Corp. last October. At the time, House Democrats and environmentalists were wary of changes the new Republican leadership was making to reduce Congress’ carbon footprint.

Many Democrats were especially critical of Lungren, under whose leadership key components of the Green the Capitol Initiative, launched by the former Democratic majority, were eliminated. Compostable dishware and corn-based utensils were replaced with less expensive foam-based dishware and plastic forks, knives and spoons.

Others worried that while landfills weren’t necessarily environmentally friendly, neither were waste-to-energy facilities, which produce carbon dioxide emissions. Covanta has faced a handful of environmental lawsuits for exceeding the legal limits of such emissions in the past.

“I don’t agree with it,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the House Administration Committee, said last year. “Why the Republicans are choosing pollution at every step is beyond me.”

But other House Democrats took a different tone last year, when Congress announced the program. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, has tried multiple times to amend legislative branch appropriations bills to bar plastic foam in House dining facilities. But he praised the waste-to-energy program last October.

“It’s the appropriate thing to do, burning our waste and getting energy from it,” he said. “We do it in my district, and it’s something we studied carefully when I was the mayor of Alexandria.”

Please send Campus Notebook tips here.