U.S. Capitol complex to become a model of green

May 01, 2007 |

Red, white, and blue are the colors most frequently associated with the U.S. government, but Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is introducing a new shade: green. On April 19, the Speaker accepted a preliminary proposal titled “Green the Capitol Initiative,” and in doing so announced that operations of the Capitol Complex, which includes congressional office buildings and the 775,000-sf U.S. Capitol Building, would become carbon neutral no later than the end of the 110th Congress (in late 2008 or early 2009). The preliminary report was prepared by Daniel Beard, the Chief Administrative Officer of the House. A final report is due in late June.

In 2006, operation of the Capitol Complex was responsible for approximately 91,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents), according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. That amount is equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 17,200 cars. The largest source of emissions was electricity, which accounted for 63% of total carbon emissions.

Aggressively improving energy efficiency is one of the report's six recommendations for reducing the Capitol Complex's rather substantial carbon footprint. Those recommendations include:

1. Operate in a carbon-neutral manner. The report states that the first and most important step is an immediate commitment to carbon-neutral operations.

2. Shift to 100% renewable electric power. The complex purchases about 103,000 megawatt-hours per year. While purchasing 100% of electricity from renewable resources could increase costs by up to 20%, the added costs would be offset by additional conservation measures. Utilizing renewable power sources will eliminate 57,000 tons of total greenhouse gas emissions annually—the equivalent of taking 11,000 cars off the road.

3. Aggressively improve energy efficiency. Recommendations include converting 12,000 desk lamps to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) during the next six months, which would result in savings of $245,000. The conversion is equivalent to taking 225 cars off the road. Additionally, incandescent bulbs in all ceiling lights should also be converted to CFLs, and high-efficiency lighting controls should be installed to reduce energy usage by as much as 50%. This action would eliminate 7,130 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to taking 1,340 cars off the road.

4. Adopt sustainable business practices. Commit to purchasing only Energy Star-labeled items, low-VOC products, furnishings that contain recycled products or wood certified by the Sustainable Forest Initiative (or similar program), and office equipment that's certified using the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. EPEAT electronic devices are low in heavy metals and high in recycled plastic content. Additionally, the Architect of the Capitol would be directed to finalize installation of an ethanol-85 tank and pump for refueling official government vehicles.

5. Continue leadership on sustainability issues. It's recommended that continuing education be offered to employees, and that a “Green Expo” be held to showcase the latest in green products and services available from commercial vendors. The report also recommends establishment of a “Green Revolving Fund” to pay for ongoing conservation initiatives.

6. Purchase offsets to ensure carbon neutral operations. The report suggests that even after the first five recommendations are implemented, the Capitol Complex would still fall short of operating in a completely carbon neutral manner, so it's suggested that credits be purchased to offset as much as 34,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The full report can be viewed at: www.speaker.gov/pdf/GTCreport.pdf

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