Republicans are likely to make significant changes to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "Green the Capitol" initiative in the coming months.
The initiative, which was launched when Pelosi (D-Calif.) became speaker in 2007, has attempted to change the way members and their staffs think about energy and the environment in their daily work lives, emphasizing recycling and energy efficiency. According to the House chief administrative officer, the program has diverted more than 75,000 pounds of waste from landfills, cut more than 400,000 pounds of carbon emissions and saved more than 175,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Several members of the House Republican transition team said they are fairly certain that the operations budget for the Capitol will be cut with the GOP set to take over, meaning that some of Pelosi's high-profile and costly environmentally friendly programs may end up in the trash heap of history.
"What we are evaluating is the effectiveness of certain projects that are planned and other ideas that have come in from an energy-saving standpoint and from a cost standpoint because we don't have an unlimited budget here," said Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the House GOP transition effort. "In fact, it is going to get reduced, I believe."
Although Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who is leading the transition team working group that is studying House operations, refused to provide any specifics, he did provide several clues about what is on the chopping block.
For instance, the corn-based biodegradable forks, spoons and knives that were introduced into the House cafeteria in 2008 as part of Pelosi's initiative, are almost certainly goners. While the utensils are supposed to eventually break down into topsoil, users often find the process begins immediately.
"I can tell you there is a bipartisan distaste for the eating utensils at the cafeteria," Cole said, adding the consensus among House members and staffers has been, "just change those, they don't work. The forks break."
But both Cole and Walden were quick to point out that if a program makes sense, Republicans will keep it.
It is very simple, Cole said: "If it is working, we are for it. If it is symbolic and it's costing more money than we could save, then we're really not."
So what's working?
Both Walden and Cole point to the new lights throughout the Capitol and House buildings that saved more than $1 million.
The compact fluorescent light bulbs "have saved an enormous amount of money, reduced energy consumption and even though some members don't like them, they make a lot of sense. They aren't going away," Walden said.
Cole wants to find more projects like the light bulbs that have saved Congress money and have proven energy savings.
And while Cole was quick to say it is way too early to make any determination, things don't look too promising for the composting program.
"Composting I can tell you is not a very good idea," Cole said. "It just doesn't work well, and it costs more money than it is worth."
The working group will not be delivering its report on where savings can be found in House operations for several more weeks.
But already at least one Democrat reacted.
A Democratic leadership aide said of the possibility of changes to the composting policy and changes to the current speaker's "Green the Capitol" initiative, "Well, we knew there would be a lot of trash in the 112th Congress but didn't realize it would be literal."
Cole said there was not the same urgency for this working group as there was for the team working on the House schedule, which was issued this week; or, the new conference rules, which must be in place when the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 5.
In the interim, the team has been conducting early-morning interviews with the various officials who run the Capitol, including the architect of the Capitol, the chief of the Capitol Hill police force and the inspector general.
The early-morning meetings are a chance for the team to systematically ask for details about internal programs as well as ideas, Cole said.
"We've had some very interesting discussions but it is a little early to get too specific simply because we're still working it through," he said. "And honestly it is going to go to our leadership and our conference and then in some cases on to Congress."
In the end, a lot of the content will be recommendations that would eventually need to be implemented by the House Administration Committee, which technically oversees the running of the Capitol, and the Legislative Branch Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.
But Cole is optimistic that whatever recommendations he and his team offer, the ideas will be well-received.
"I think they will be taken very seriously because they'll have been vetted by our conference and our leadership," Cole said. "But it will take a while for us to do everything that we'll want to do."
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