Beard Fires Back at Greening Plan Critics

Posted November 30, 2007 at 6:24pm

House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard and an array of Members are speaking up in support of the Green the Capitol Initiative, a project that in recent weeks has been criticized by Republican leaders as a waste of taxpayer funds.

That opposition surfaced most notably in a Nov. 6 talking points memo written by the press office of Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and sent to Republican House Members. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Roll Call, argues that the greening initiative “means burning taxpayer dollars by the ton … even though nobody can demonstrate its potential benefits for the environment.”

Boehner’s letter specifically takes the CAO to task for buying about $89,000 worth of carbon credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange. The Nov. 5 purchase has been questioned by an array of Members, in part because a Government Accountability Office report studying the CCX — which has been criticized by other organizations in the past — has not yet been issued.

“Speaker Pelosi and Captain ‘Green’ Beard have plans in the works to spend millions turning the Capitol into a ‘sin absolving’ wonderland for Members and staffers alike,” the memo reads. “American taxpayers already pay for the salaries of Members and staff; they shouldn’t be stuck with the check” for greening efforts.

Beard, the man charged with overseeing the project, is now firing back. In an interview Friday, he argued that the letter was off base, saying that the initiative already has been successful and will save Congress money in the long term.

“Here we are trying to cut our operating costs and promote energy conservation and energy efficiency, and I guess I was just flabbergasted when I read it,” Beard said of the letter. “It just sort of came out of the blue.”

Beard also gained support from Members, who argued the greening effort is important and necessary, and that Boehner’s memo is inaccurate.

“Mostly, it is just wrongheaded,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a leading green advocate, said of the letter.

“One of the things that has concerned me since I first came to Congress is that it is one of the least green places I’ve encountered,” Blumenauer said, adding that “there’s a lot of energy, enthusiasm and commitment of our little Capitol Hill village.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged Beard with greening the House shortly after she took control in January. Beard officially presented Pelosi with his report in June, which outlined short- and long-term things that can be done to make the House carbon-neutral and eventually self-sustaining.

That report was largely positively received. But in recent months, critics have emerged, including many who argue it was undertaken too quickly without enough thorough research.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), ranking member of the House Administration Committee, is among them. He sent Beard a letter in November asking that he wait until the GAO report was complete to buy the offsets. Beard did not.

“The ranking member has made his concerns exceedingly clear to Mr. Beard, and had requested that he wait for the GAO assessment,” Ehlers spokeswoman Salley Collins said Friday. “Beard has simply opted to ignore the cautions despite multiple reports questioning the validity of the CCX.”

Beard defended the offset purchase.

“I think it’s absolutely the right move to make,” he said. “We’ve done the best we can by buying renewable power and switching to natural gas. But in the end, we still had a certain amount of carbon emissions.”

But a Boehner spokesman said Friday that concern about the offset purchase remains.

“Offsets don’t solve any problems,” spokesman Brian Kennedy said. “They just waste taxpayer dollars.”

Aside from the offset issue, the letter also criticizes other Green the Capitol efforts, including: the introduction of a hybrid vehicle ride-share program (which will allow staffers to “catch a movie during work hours,” according to the letter); spending $10,000 a week to purchase renewable energy; purchasing Segway personal transporters; spending $2.7 million to switch to more energy-friendly fuels at the Capitol Power Plant; and using “climate neutral” adhesives, sealants, paints and other construction supplies in House buildings.

“I think most Republicans would say that taxpayer dollars could be used in far more efficient ways, on some of the more critical issues,” Kennedy said. “Is having hybrid rental cars for staffers and green paint and light bulbs for the Capitol complex, at taxpayer expense, really the best use of the taxpayer’s time and dollars, given the lack of return?”

Some of that criticism is simply wrong, according to CAO officials. For example, there are no plans to buy Segways at all, although three were showcased during the CAO’s recent Green Transportation Expo. And while a ride-share program has been established, House staff will need to pay to use the vehicles — the House will not be charged.

Officials also note that the $10,000 a week to buy renewable energy will be offset in the long run by energy conservation actions, and the $2.7 million for the plant is needed because it will eliminate more than 10,000 tons of carbon emissions. And switching to new adhesives and other supplies is much better for the indoor air quality of House buildings.

Beard also got further support for the greening project when Blumenauer joined Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) in a Nov. 15 special order session.

On the Republican side, Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.) also has shown support.

“Everybody from Wal-Mart to Coca Cola to [General Motors] are doing these kinds of things,” Beard said. “And they are doing it for a reason. You not only reduce your greenhouse emissions, but you save money.”