Updated at 6:05 p.m. EST.
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) won a victory for the coal industry in the wee hours of the morning today when the House adopted a relatively cheap but highly symbolic amendment to the fiscal 2011 continuing resolution.
Whitfield's amendment, which was adopted by voice vote at about 1 a.m. this morning, stripped $1.5 million from the House's Greening the Capitol initiative, a program begun in 2007 under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to make Congress an example of energy efficiency in the workplace. Whitfield's amendment targeted a section of the CR that deals with legislative branch appropriations for the House, a portion of appropriations bills that the Senate does not consider in creating its version of the legislation.
Whitfield said today that he offered the amendment because he believes Pelosi's greening program was more a political stunt than a real effort to save taxpayers money. What upset Whitfield in particular was a key component of the Greening the Capitol plan that sought to phase out the use of coal at the Capitol Power Plant.
Whitfield, who hails from the coal-rich Bluegrass State, said that in their effort to implement their greening program, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wrote a letter to the Architect of the Capitol directing him to stop buying coal for the Capitol Power Plant "even though the plant met all environmental requirements."
Whitfield called it a unilateral decision that was made "with no notice about it, no discussion on it and no vote on it."
But the retrofitting process and extra expense that came with phasing out cheaper coal cost Congress an additional $7 million to $8 million a year, he said -- numbers a Pelosi spokesman today called "fictitious."
"These coal plants are doing everything they can do to meet environmental standards and this plant met environmental standards, met the Clean Air Act, and they still axed it," Whitfield said.
And so Whitfield offered his bill, which uses the $1.5 million that would have been used to continue to implement the initiative for debt reduction.
Several Democrats today expressed their anger over the defunding of the program.
District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said the move by Republicans to "de-green the Capitol" was "scandalous." At a time when Congress is trying to get the country to conserve energy "this is clearly not leading by example," Norton said.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) called the amendment "shortsighted" noting that creating a more environmentally responsible workplace "is what progressive employers are doing around the country."
Blumenauer promised that he would continue to recycle even if Republicans are against it.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who helped begin the program as the former chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the legislative branch, said the Greening the Capitol Initiative has already saved the House $1.5 million and would have saved taxpayers upward of $9 million when fully implemented.
Wasserman Schultz said Republicans are clearly trying to poke a stick in the eye of the former speaker by targeting her initiative.
"It's childish, it's irresponsible and it's shortsighted," she said.
But Whitfield said it was Democrats who were being shortsighted by making a political statement at the expense of the many Americans who work in the fossil fuel industry "just because they didn't want to use it in San Francisco."