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House drops 'carbon neutral' plan

March 02, 2009|Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives has abandoned a plan to make its offices "carbon neutral," a sign that Congress is wrestling with a pledge to become more green even as it crafts sweeping legislation on climate change.

The promise that the House would effectively reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero was a centerpiece of the Green the Capitol program in which the new Democratic leadership sought to use Capitol Hill as a kind of a national demonstration project.

But last week, a spokesman for the House's chief administrative officer said the chamber's leadership had dropped an essential part of the plan, the purchase of "carbon offsets" to cancel out emissions from its buildings. Offsets are a controversial commodity that promises that a certain amount of pollution was captured or avoided elsewhere.

"Right now, there is no plan to purchase more offsets," spokesman Jeff Ventura said. The House paid $89,000 for offsets to cover the last session, in 2007 and 2008.

The decision comes as legislators also struggle with the future of the Capitol Power Plant.

Hundreds of demonstrators with Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network and other groups will protest today against the plant's use of coal.

The plant is burning more natural gas, which produces about half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. But it continues to burn about 35% coal.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wrote to the Architect of the Capitol, which runs the plant, proposing that it be converted to run only on natural gas. The conversion's estimated cost: $7.78 million.

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