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Lungren Nixes Compost Program

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House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren on Monday ordered the suspension of one of the first Democratic-initiated Green the Capitol programs, citing a high price tag and nominal reductions to greenhouse gas emissions.

The California Republican found the House composting program, which costs about $475,000 annually, increases the chamber’s overall energy consumption while reducing the building’s carbon footprint by just seven metric tons annually — the equivalent of taking one car off the road.

“After a thorough review of the House’s composting operations, I have concluded that it is neither cost effective nor energy efficient to continue the program,” Lungren said in a statement. “While I am suspending this program because it is costly and increases energy consumption, I would like to assure the House community that this Committee will continue to evaluate all components of House operations and will work with the appropriate agencies to incorporate environmentally sustainable practices when feasible.”

The program increases the House’s energy consumption through the use of additional electricity for the pulping process and the increased hauling distance to the composting facility, according to a report from the inspector general.

Ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa.) supports the decision to suspend the program but also “wants to see the House continue environmentally responsible efforts where cost effective,” spokesman Kyle Anderson said.

Ditching the program means staffers who complained of melting soupspoons can rest easy. Utensils and sandwich clam shells made from corn, plates and coffee cups made from paper, and containers made from sugarcane are being discontinued as stocked supplies are used up. The supplies accounted for $320,000 of the program’s price tag, according to a spokesman for the House chief operating officer.

Labor costs for hauling the compost to a pulper near the Longworth House Office Building account for the rest of the money. The pulper will be removed and sent to the General Services Administration, said Dan Weiser, spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer.

The composting program started in early 2008 and was one of the earliest features of the Green the Capitol Initiative started by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Starting with compost bins and compostable supplies in Longworth Cafeteria, the program was soon expanded to offer bins to offices of Members who wished to participate. As of November, more than 1,196 tons of material has been composted.

“Obviously, it is disappointing to see this important component of the program suspended,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “The commercial food composting industry has not fully developed yet, and we would hope that when a closer commercial composting site opens and more competition brings down costs, the program would be reinstituted.”

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