Pelosi: Paint the People’s House a Brighter GREEN!

As discussed in Pelosi is painting the House GREEN, in the beginning of March, Nancy Pelosi directed the House Chief Administrative Officer to come up with a plan to ‘Green the House’.

This is moving forward. As per Democrats Painting the House GREEN …, the preliminary report (summary: pdf) of the Green the Capitol Initiative was released. It has real, substantive, and meaningful elements. It merits support, applause and, well, some examination.

The Green the Capitol Initiative does have some great material … but from what is there, it also seems to miss real opportunities and real elements for greening the People’s House. In terms of examination, therefore, we should look to see where Nancy could paint the House a Darker Greena Brighter Shade of Green.
A quick recap (if you’ve read the other discussions, feel free to jump to ‘Painting the People’s House a Darker Green’.

In the beginning of March, Nancy Pelosi tasked the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the House on ‘greening the Capitol’ …

a critical initiative to address energy conservation, efficiency and cost savings for the U.S. Capitol and congressional office buildings …

The House of Representatives should provide leadership to the nation in providing an environmentally responsible and healthy working environment for our employees.

Well, the preliminary report (summary: pdf) of the Green the Capitol Initiative is out …

“The environmental challenges we face are as local as our neighborhoods and as global as our planet. The House must lead by example and it is time for Congress to act on its own carbon footprint. Today, we announce our intention to operate the House in a carbon neutral manner at the earliest possible date with a deadline of the end of this Congress.” Speaker Pelosi, 19 April 2007

What are core recommendations in the CAO’s preliminary report:

  • Operate the House in a Carbon Neutral Manner
  • Shift to 100 Renewable Electric Power
  • Aggressively Improve Energy Efficiency
  • Adopt Sustainable Business Practices
  • Continued Leadership on Sustainability Issues
  • Offsets to ensure Carbon Neutral Operations

What do some of these mean and what are the numbers?

  • Renewable Power: Shifting to 100% renewable/nuclear will cut the House’s carbon footprint by 57,000 tons per year — the equivalent, as calculated, of taking 11,000 cars off the road. Just for perspective, The House used 103,410,886 kilowatt hours in 2006 (1.7% more than in 2003) (The full version of the preliminary report (warning: large pdf) has a lot of detail about the House’s / Capitol’s use of energy.) — which will be reduced by the third initiative …
  • Aggressively Improve Energy Efficiency: “The Architect of the Capitol has identified over one hundred opportunities for improvements in the physical buildings and operations …” [NOTE: I have tried to find this report and can’t … if anyone can, please let me know in comments. You might want to look at AOC Saving Energy at the Capitol (two-page pdf handout)] And, the CAO has recommended many of these for action.
  • Symbolic Leadership/Education: Such as prioritizing buying green products, educating employees, etc …
  • Offset Program: The report calls for a serious review of carbon credit programs to find a path for offsetting roughly 34,000 tons of carbon emissions from the Hill’s coal-burning power plant.

To be clear: The Green the Capitol initiative is a clear step that the House leadership is seeking to walk-the-walk when it comes to how Congress conducts its business.

We should celebrate this — on Earth Day and everyday.

Now we have the question:

Nancy, Will you paint the House a Darker Shade of Green?
A Brighter Shade of Green?

Painting the People’s House a Darker Green

I applaud this initiative. I truly do. It is great and we should be applauding. But, at the same time, we should be paying some real attention to where it could be strengthened. My frustration is, from what I can tell, that this is not as aggressive and all-encompassing as it should be both in leadership and cost-effectiveness terms.

What are some examples of potential gaps?

Innovation: In terms of ‘innovative’, there does not seem to be any look at items like these (which are all available on the market):

* Using solar hot-water systems for pre-heating water before boiling (reducing that coal-burning requirement).
* Ice-makers associated with air conditioning: make ice at night/off peak to then use for air conditioning in the day (saves about 5% of the energy demand and balances the electrical load into the night, reducing peak requirements). (This is well known, here is a DOE item on Ice-storage retrofit — this might be one of the AOC’s 100 items …)
* Using the House as a test ground, somewhat like the solar farm by the Pentagon, for demonstrating practical use of new options for energy efficiency and renewable power. Should there be some wind turbines somewhere on House buildings? Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) electrical generation?

Transportation: The Green the Capitol Initiative speaks to physical infrastructure. A good deal of Congressional / House operations are not “fixed”. For example,
* Should the Capitol Police prioritize, for example, moving their vehicles to hybrids and, then, plug-in hybrids?
* What about Congressional / House staff travel? Is there a path to work to reduce the GHG footprint of this travel? To provide symbolic leadership?
* What about commuting? Will Pelosi foster flex-time and telecommuting among Hill staff, reducing the number of cars in reserved parking spaces in the blocks surrounding the Capitol?

Water and other environmental: Perhaps it is my poor reading of the report, but it seems dominated by “energy”, which is only a portion of “green”. There is mention of buying sustainable products and reducing volatile organic compound (VOC) in products (which everyone one of us should do everywhere we can). But, for example, the primary discussion of “water” relates to the power plant and steam power (this matters) and the other comments are all about “need for water conservation” with notable absence of any description of what actions should be taken. Now, quite roughly, moving/cleaning/moving/cleaning again water accounts for roughly 7% of US electrical use — and we generallly use that water quite inefficiently. And, adequate water supplies will be a serious challenge in the coming decades (for Americans and across much of the globe). Thus, the House could do things that would reduce water use, save energy, save money, and demonstrate leadership.
* Energy-Efficient Bathrooms: There are true options to reduce water use in public bathrooms. In high-flow traffic areas, replacing “traditional” urinals with no-flush urinals can save 40,000+ gallons of water per year. To give a cost-effectiveness example, Wal-Mart has calculated that ripping out a traditional bathroom, replacing traditional plumbing with water efficient systems, and retiling/such is so cost effective that the savings in water/sewage costs pay for the work in just four months! (In other words, they could replace 100% of their toilets every year and the cost savings would be three times the cost of doing the work.) Why shouldn’t the House make every (public, at least) bathroom high-efficiency in water.
* Storm run-off: The report mentions storm run off. While not possible on the Dome, itself (e.g., historic buildings), there are many of the Capitol’s buildings that could be white roofed (high reflective, saves energy by reducing heat gain and improves albedo — thus helping reducing global warming and heat island effects by reflecting sunlight back into space) and then collect the water runoff from the roofs for use in the buildings (or for landscaping).

There are, again, reasons to celebrate the Green the Capitol Initiative.

It will have a real, physical impact. As the lessons are learned and real impact seen by members of Congress, it could help foster better legislative action. And, with good leadership and discussion, it could help others take steps forward in their own lives (whether in their own homes, communities, and/or businesses).


Nancy Pelosi should
Paint the House a Darker Green!
Paint it a Brigher GREEN!

Energy Smart

Ask yourself: Are you doing your part?



One response to “Pelosi: Paint the People’s House a Brighter GREEN!

  1. I bet the coal lobby gets involved and turns it into a farce.

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