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Architect of the Capitol and Activists Argue Over Lumps of Coal at Power Plant

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Santa drops a lump of coal into the Architect of the Capitol’s stocking at a protest Monday. Activists want the Capitol Power Plant to stop burning coal.

The AOC is already restricted in when it can burn coal at the plant: when “heating needs exceed the capacity of the natural gas pipeline currently serving the complex,” during “abnormally cold conditions” and in cases where “equipment outages on the gas boilers require a backup.”

These were the stipulations handed down in 2009, when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — then speaker — alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., directed the AOC to switch to natural gas as its primary fuel source.

As long as the AOC is abiding by these instructions, the agency cannot technically be faulted by congressional leadership. AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said Tuesday that the agency is in compliance, though instances when the plant has to rely on coal “varies from year to year based on weather, equipment performance, maintenance schedules, etc.”

Cogeneration’s ultimate goal would be the end of coal use entirely at the Capitol Power Plant, Malecki stressed. Once the permits are granted, construction commences and all systems are “go,” there would be no reason to keep coal on the premises at all.

That process could take a few years, though, which isn’t enough for anti-coal activists in and outside the Capitol Hill neighborhood. There is currently no timetable in place for the DDOE to issue its decision. The AOC expects the Environmental Protection Agency, which is also issuing necessary permits for cogeneration to commence, to reach a verdict sooner.

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