Published January 25, 2011
Nancy Pelosi promised to "drain the swamp" when she took the gavel as speaker. Now Republicans want to clean up the compost heap.
Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., announced this week that he's ordered an end to the Pelosi-championed composting program in the House of Representatives. The chairman of the House Administration Committee said an internal review of the program showed it wasn't living up to expectations.
"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 in a written statement, claiming the composting was costing taxpayers $475,000 a year.
The decision is a symbolic but disappointing one for Democrats who pushed the composting as a pillar of Pelosi's "Green the Capitol" initiative. Under Pelosi, Styrofoam and plastic materials were discontinued in House eateries, replaced by biodegradable alternatives. The House then shipped its biodegradable waste to a composting site in Maryland.
"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 spokesman Drew Hammill said in an e-mail.
But Lungren said the haul to the Maryland site, combined with the additional electricity used during the pulping process, ended up boosting the chamber's energy consumption. He said an inspector general review found that all things considered, the impact made by the program was equivalent to taking just one car off the road annually. He alternatively praised a separate waste management system by the architect of the Capitol that used incinerators to generate energy.
It's not clear what other elements of the "Green the Capitol" program might come under scrutiny, but Lungren committed to keeping the Hill clean and green where possible.
"While I am suspending this program because it is costly and increases energy consumption, I would like to assure the House community that this committee will continue to evaluate all components of House operations and will work with the appropriate agencies to incorporate environmentally sustainable practices when feasible," he said.
The "Green the Capitol" program has a host of components aside from composting. The initiative expanded House recycling and led to thousands of energy-efficient light bulbs being installed on the Hill.
The House is trying to reduce water consumption by replacing inefficient toilets and other fixtures, and boost efficiency for heating and cooling by sealing leaks.
As for the compost program, a Democratic aide said that the IG study cited by Lungren did not factor in that the hauling company makes other stops on its compost run -- suggesting the House share of energy consumption would be smaller than estimated. The aide also noted that other government bodies, including the Senate, have followed the House's lead on composting. As of last November, more than 1,100 tons of material had been composted.
Lungren spokeswoman Salley Wood said the committee chairman wasn't picking on the "Green the Capitol" program and that the only reason he addressed it so early on was because a hauling contract was set to expire in mid-January.
"The chairman has pledged to do a thorough analysis of all of the House operations, not specific to greening the Capitol," she said. "We're not homing in on" the greening program.
The compost heap ruling may have had more to do with unhappy staffers than anything. Lungren told The Washington Post last month that he was hearing bipartisan complaints that the biodegradable utensils kept falling apart while people were trying to eat.