Baucus Pays to Offset Carbon Emissions

Posted October 5, 2007 at 3:49pm

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) paid $1,152 in late September to offset the carbon emissions produced by one year’s worth of air travel between Washington, D.C., and his home state, becoming the first Senator to do so, his office said.

The payment was made to NativeEnergy, a privately held American Indian company in Charlotte, Vt. (It is majority-owned by the International Council on Utility Policy, a non-profit organization of Great Plains Tribes). Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser said the Senator researched the industry and picked NativeEnergy over other companies offering similar services.

“NativeEnergy seemed the most credible and most professional, and most importantly, they reinvest in new energy projects,” Kaiser said.

Companies that offer carbon offsetting services assist users in assessing their “carbon footprint,” or the output of carbon dioxide pollution produced by activities such as car travel, air travel or powering an office. For example, the “travel calculator” on the NativeEnergy Web site estimates that driving from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in a medium-size car would produce about 1.29 tons of carbon dioxide, while a one-way nonstop flight of the same distance would produce slightly less than one ton. In both cases, the cost to offset the carbon emissions comes to about $24.

The money paid to offset carbon emissions is used to fund renewable energy projects. In the case of NativeEnergy, these include wind farms and methane projects. One methane project, located on the Wanner family dairy farm in Narvon, Pa., produces power by feeding cow manure into an anaerobic digester; this power is dubbed “remooable energy” by NativeEnergy. The idea is that renewable energy produced by various energy projects will supplant fossil-fuel energy that emits carbon dioxide, and the resulting decrease in power-plant produced carbon dioxide offsets the output of the user’s activities.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) also is paying NativeEnergy to offset carbon pollution produced by his Congressional office; he was the first Member of the House of Representatives to do so, and Roll Call reported earlier this year that Welch introduced legislation to authorize Congressional and other government offices to spend official money offsetting their own energy use. (The bill was referred to the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization and Procurement.)

Welch’s staff also contacted Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), who in turn paid $830 to a Colorado-based renewable energy company to offset carbon output by his Washington and Lakewood, Colo., offices, as well as travel by him and his staff, as part of the Congressman’s “Green Office” project, said his communications and policy director, Leslie Oliver.

“We thought it was especially appropriate since our district is home to the National Renewable Energy Lab,” which calculated Perlmutter’s carbon output, Oliver said.

NativeEnergy spokesman Billy Connelly said the presidential campaigns of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) also are using his company to offset all carbon pollution produced by their air and ground travel and their campaign offices.