Green Congress

Posted April 22, 2008 at 6:26pm

Roll Call readers know that we don’t take stands on policy issues before Congress unless they concern Congress itself — and we won’t start now, even in observance of Earth Week.

In that spirit, we certainly are not going to opine about the merits of various legislative proposals to control global climate change. We won’t even get into the controversy — albeit a diminishing controversy — about whether global warming is primarily caused by human activity and should be stopped by limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

We do, however, agree with the point made by President Bush last week — and others, as well — that federal policy on these issues needs to be established by elected officials — Congress and the president — not the courts and regulatory bodies. Given the complexities involved, it won’t be easy. Perhaps it can’t happen this year. But Congress has to debate and act, and it should try to accomplish as much as possible this year.

On a subordinate and modest aspect of this huge national and global question, we applaud most elements of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) initiative to help make Congress “green” by making House operations carbon-neutral by the end of the 110th Congress and reducing energy consumption by 50 percent in 10 years.

The effort includes installing environmentally friendly lighting for the Capitol Dome, retaining a new food-service vendor using 100 percent biodegradable food containers and replacing coal with cleaner natural gas at the Capitol Power Plant.

The House greening project has received vastly more publicity than a parallel effort in the Senate led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee, aimed at a 30 percent overall reduction in energy consumption by 2015. This effort concentrates on installing more efficient lighting, installing a “green roof” on the Dirksen Building and recycling.

No matter what anybody’s position is on global warming, conservation of energy at the Capitol contributes — albeit very modestly — to the widely shared goals of energy independence and long-run cost control. Congress is also setting an example for the rest of the country. Some measures cost money in the short run, such as the proposed installation of “smart meters” to monitor energy use in the Capitol and House offices, at a cost of $4.3 million.

Republicans complain that the meters are a waste of money, but House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard points out that the meters will pay for themselves in six years and after that will save $750,000 a year by helping reduce electricity usage. Republicans may be on firmer ground in protesting the House’s purchase of $89,000 worth of carbon credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange, whose effectiveness is controversial.

Global warming legislation sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) will be on the Senate floor June 2. Some Republicans forecast that their party will support cloture on the measure to permit a full debate and action on amendments. We hope so, as a means of advancing — eventually — a national policy established by elected officials, not judges or bureaucrats.