Will a GOP-led House un-'green' the Capitol?

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Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just outside the doors of Congress, the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree glows with strands of energy-efficient LED lights. Inside the Capitol, thousands of compact fluorescent light bulbs illuminate the final days of the session. Staffers print with recycled paper, eat with compostable forks and grab sodas from low-emission vending machines.

Congress has gone to great lengths in recent years to reduce its carbon footprint, with a substantial share of that effort stemming from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "Green the Capitol" initiative.

Now, Democrats are headed to the minority and Republican leaders - who were skeptical of the California Democrat's program from the start - are preparing to trim the House budget. So will Green the Capitol see its own "footprint" reduced by the new majority?

"I definitely think it is" a target for cuts, said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. "I don't know how much of it is puff without substance and how much of it is really consequential [energy] reduction."

A GOP leadership aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss decisions that aren't official yet, said "there are no plans to do away with the 'Greening' program" but added that the initiative would be less self-congratulatory than Republicans believe it has been under Democrats.

"We think a conservation program should be carried out as a taxpayer-protection strategy, not a public relations strategy," the aide said.

Republican aides and lawmakers said they planned to weigh each element of the initiative.

"Some of the measures may have saved some money," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the leader of the conservative Tea Party Caucus. "We have to look at it on a cost- effectiveness basis."

Green the Capitol has been controversial since it was born in 2007, as some Republicans suggested the program was more symbolic than substantive. They were particularly critical of the House's move to purchase $90,000 worth of carbon offsets at the Chicago Climate Exchange, money designed to cancel out the House's carbon emissions by funding programs to reduce emissions elsewhere. That purchase won't be repeated under a GOP majority.

And then there are the forks.

"I've had more complaints about . . . the utensils than any other single thing. And that's from Democrats and Republicans," said Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), the incoming chairman of the House Administration Committee.

Since biodegradable utensils were introduced in House-side eateries, lawmakers, aides and even a few reporters have grumbled that - Earth-friendly or not - the forks break and the knives don't cut very well. Republican leaders could easily earn bipartisan goodwill simply by finding stronger utensils.

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