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Recycling Those Congressional Debates

Updated 12:40 p.m.
By Ben Pershing
Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Friday that everything Congress says and does will be 100 percent recycled. No, not the bills and debates themselves, but the printed version of them that is compiled for posterity in the Congressional Record.

The record, published daily when Congress is in session, includes every word spoken on the House and Senate floors as well as additional remarks inserted by lawmakers and lists of what bills have been introduced, reported or passed. Though the record is online and easy to read or searched, the Government Printing Office still cranks out paper copies each day and trucks them to Capitol Hill offices and other interested customers. The GPO currently prints just over 4,000 copies each day. That figure is down, thanks to the popularity of the Internet version, from 8,000 copies in 2000 and more than 15,000 in 1995.

At an event Friday with Congressional officials, GPO head Robert Tapella, the U.S. Public Printer, presented Pelosi with a copy of the first-ever fully-recycled record. Pelosi lauded the move as "a revolutionary step" that was "long overdue." And she invoked a personal memory: When Pelosi's father, former Baltimore mayor and House member Thomas D'Alesandro (D), served in Congress, her mother kept a full library of Congressional Records at home for his reference, storing them under the beds of Pelosi's five brothers.

The printed Congressional Record currently uses 40 percent recycled paper, and boosting that number to 100 percent is the latest step in Pelosi's effort to make Congress more friendly to the environment. Since she became Speaker in 2007, Pelosi has poured a great deal of energy into a "Green the Capitol" initiative. The effort has included purchasing carbon offsets for pollution, buying wind power, converting the Capitol Power Plant to run on natural gas and the adoption of compact fluorescent light bulbs and recycled paper, utensils and other staples of daily activity.

Pelosi said the switch to 100 percent recycled paper would eliminate 1.4 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually. The GPO says it currently spends roughly $850,000 to buy the paper used for the Congressional Record, and that today's announcement won't increase that cost. Of course, ceasing to print paper copies altogether would save a lot more money -- and trees -- but no one is proposing that step quite yet.

Or members of Congress could just talk less.

By Ben Pershing  |  October 2, 2009; 11:39 AM ET
Categories:  Dem. Leaders , House  
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