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Posted at 4:35 PM ET, 01/24/2011

Stick a fork in it; House composting program done

By Ben Pershing

Updated 5:27 p.m.
Did the Capitol just get a little less green? Or a little less wasteful?

Less than a month into their tenure controlling the House, Republicans have scrapped a small but symbolically important element of the "Green the Capitol" initiative that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) installed when she was Speaker. Specifically, they're trashing Pelosi's compostable forks and food trays.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Administration Committee, announced Monday that he was ordering the chamber's composting program to be suspended after concluding that it cost too much and wasted too much energy.

"After a thorough review of the House's composting operations, I have concluded that it is neither cost effective nor energy efficient to continue the program," Lungren said.

Amid all the changes Pelosi helped institute when Democrats took over the chamber in 2007 -- including installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs and weaning the Capitol power plant off coal -- the one that might have sparked the most debate among House denizens, particularly during lunch hour, was the introduction of compostable utensils and takeout trays in House eateries. The program was designed to reduce waste, eliminating Styrofoam containers and plastic silverware that would clog landfills for eternity.

The problem, staffers from both parties have grumbled, is that the forks break, the spoons melt and the knives don't cut much more than a soft piece of bread. And the trash cans were replaced with a bewildering array of recycling bins that few have mastered.

That's not why Lungren ended the program, though. He concluded that, in addition to costing $475,000 per year, it "also increased the House's energy consumption through the use of additional electricity for the pulping process and the increased hauling distance to the composting facility." And according to the House Inspector General, the "the program has only achieved carbon reductions equivalent to removing one car from the road each year."

In response, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said: "Obviously, it is disappointing to see this important component of the program suspended. The commercial food composting industry has not fully developed yet, and we would hope that when a closer commercial composting site opens and more competition brings down costs, the program would be reinstituted."

Pelosi's office also contended that the House IG's report was flawed in how it measured the energy used and carbon emissions saved by the program, and noted that the Senate, Library of Congress and Capitol Visitor Center all have composting programs as well.

Rep. Robert Brady (Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, said in a statement released by his office that he is "certainly disappointed at the suspension of the program, but agrees that composting, while a valuable, sound environmental practice, must be implemented with an eye on fiscal responsibility. I look forward to working with Chairman Lungren in ensuring that House operations implement sustainable policies that positively impact our environment, while saving taxpayer dollars."

But Republicans note that Brady himself recommended discontinuing the composting program last month.

In a Dec. 15 letter to the head of the GOP's transition effort, Brady praised much of the Green the Capitol initiative but said the composting component should be discontinued because "[c]omposting services in the National Capital Region have not adequately matured to make this program a sustainable or cost efficient enterprise for the House."

Since Republicans won control of the House in November, members of both parties have wondered how much of the Green the Capitol program would go on the chopping block. It's not clear yet how many other elements the GOP plans to change.

By Ben Pershing  | January 24, 2011; 4:35 PM ET
Categories:  44 Native, Capitol Briefing  | Tags:  house administration; house composting; green the capitol; dan lungren  
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Lets spend money on those items that are needed and stop spending money on things we would like or make us feel good.

Posted by: tateofpa | January 26, 2011 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb!!!

Posted by: rheckler2002 | January 25, 2011 9:18 AM | Report abuse

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