Ryan Lester is an Advocacy Intern at Campus Progress
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the “Green the Capitol” initiative in 2007 in order to demonstrate that the House was ready to back its talk on green energy with change. The initiative made plans to make the House carbon-neutral by the end of the 110th Congress, cut overall energy consumption, and transform the Capitol into a model of sustainability for the nation. But has it succeeded? Campus Progress recently partnered with Green the Capitol to host a tour of the House’s new green technology.
Green the Capitol was established with the broad goal of transforming the Capitol into a working, effective model for sustainability. Congressional leaders realized they would have to match whatever legislation was passed with reforms of their own within Capitol Hill after a study developed by the GAO found that the operation of the House complex was responsible for approximately 91,000 tons of CO2 emissions, roughly equal to the emissions of 17,200 cars, in 2006. Speaker Pelosi quickly directed Daniel Beard, Chief Administrative Officer, to begin greening the Capitol.
The plan initially faced opposition, but the leadership of Dan Beard and Nancy Pelosi has been instrumental in ensuring the plan’s implementation, notes Alison Rogers, Green the Capitol Education and Outreach Coordinator. Green the Capitol realized they would have to re-frame some of the arguments for sustainability to bring the key “drivers” on board, shifting focus from Environmental benefits to cost-saving and health improvements.
One of the key components of the plan involves raising awareness of environmental issues among Congressional staff. Simple things like turning off lights and computers can cut vast amounts of energy waste. In addition, most incandescent bulbs in the House have been replaced with compact fluorescent lights.
Those who attended the Campus Progress event got a first hand look at changes made in the Cafeteria to reduce environmental impact and energy waste; the Cafeteria’s menu now consists of local, organic foods, food is served in compostable plastics and containers, a pulper is used to reduced the volume and weight of waste, and compostable waste is diverted from landfills to compost facilities. The energy that cannot be immediately switched over to renewable sources is offset with purchases from the Chicago Climate Exchange.
However, there’s still a lot left to be done. Rogers stated that Green the Capitol would like to shut down the Capitol Coal Plant and begin powering Capitol Hill with natural gas, but is stuck in the “process” of doing so. This power plant was shut down by 2,500 activists on March 2nd during Capitol Climate Action, which coincided with Powershift ’09. Rogers noted that activism like this could act as the “tipping point” for environmental reforms, both in Congress itself and in the way it is run. Hopefully, the changes made by the Green the Capitol initiative will not only help the environment but also help to tip the scales for the climate legislation currently in Congress.