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News | Welch lauded for “greening” Washington

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted April 23, 2007

WASHINGTON — A recent congressional report finds that U.S. House should reduce its environmental impacts by becoming more energy efficient, energy independent, and go “carbon neutral.”

And, Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, is receiving particular praise for his role in shaping the report’s recommendations.

The preliminary report on the "Green the Capitol" Initiative was presented by the chief administrative officer (CAO) in response to a March 1 letter by House Democratic leaders.

In accepting the report and agreeing to undertake its initiatives, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, set aside particular adulations for Welch.

"The environmental challenges we face are as local as our neighborhoods and as global as our planet," Pelosi said in a statement. "The House must lead by example and Congressman Welch exemplifies this key model. He has brought Vermont's values to Washington and his leadership on global warming is valuable asset to the U.S. Congress and to our country."

The report’s chief author also singled out praise for Welch.

“Congressman Welch was the inspiration for most of the innovative recommendations in the report. His decision to unilaterally make his office carbon neutral, prodded us to find a way to make the entire House of Representatives carbon neutral,” said Daniel P.Beard, the chief administrative officer of the House. “Congressman Welch has been one of the foremost voices urging action on global warming and climate change in the House of Representatives.”

In February, Welch launched an initiative to make his congressional offices in Vermont and Washington carbon neutral through reducing energy use, increasing energy efficiency, and offsetting his office's carbon emissions. He then introduced legislation making it so members, and other federal agencies, could follow suit.

"Speaker Pelosi has demonstrated the strong commitment to addressing global warming that we need from our nation's leaders. The time is now to act,” said Welch. “While the challenges of global warming must be addressed through comprehensive legislation, we also have the opportunity to take practical, immediate actions as a first step and to serve as a vital example. I hope my office's carbon neutral initiative will be one of many catalysts for needed change."

The CAO report recommends operating the entire House complex in a carbon neutral manner, shifting to 100 percent renewable electric power sources, aggressively improving energy efficiency, and implementing offsets to ensure carbon neutrality, among other steps.

Those additional steps include changing light bulbs, purchasing more energy efficient office equipment, holding a “Green Expo,” undertake an employee education program, and create a revolving loan fund to help fund energy-conservation measures.

As part of Welch’s efforts to become carbon neutral, he is personally investing in two Vermont-based renewable energy projects that will “offset” the amount of carbon dioxide — 56 tons — his operations produce annually. That’s the equivalent of taking 10 cars off the road in a year — cars that drive 12,000 miles and get 20 miles to the gallon.

Prohibited by current law from using federal funds allotted for office operations, Welch is using personal funds to pay the $672 cost for the carbon offsets to NativeEnergy, a national leader in carbon offset providers.

“We know we have to take hundreds — thousands — of steps to eliminate or substantially reduce our impact on global warming, and I think this is just one way to do that,” said Welch in February when he announced his office’s initiative.

He was the first congressional office to go “carbon neutral.”

Because he can’t use his office budget to pay for this program, Welch said he would introduce legislation allowing all congressional offices as well as 132 federal agencies to account for their environmental impact through such offset programs.

The carbon neutral initiative accounts for the fuel and electricity-related emissions created by Welch’s two offices, regular roundtrip air travel from Vermont to Washington, and car travel throughout the state by Welch and his staff.

The projects slated to be built with the help of Welch’s offset contribution are a methane digester project on a Westminster dairy farm and a biomass pellet-fired boiler that will replace a fossil fuel-fired boiler at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.

According to the CAO report, the House complex was responsible for approximately 91,000 tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in fiscal year 2006. This is equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 17,200 cars.

Electricity use was the largest source of emissions, accounting for 63 percent of total carbon emissions. The electricity purchased by the House, and other Legislative branch agencies, is generated from several sources: 53 percent is from coal; 37 percent from nuclear; 7 percent from natural gas; 2 percent from renewables, and 1 percent from fuel oil.

The Capitol’s power plant accounts for another 33 percent of House GHG emissions, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels at the boilers to generate steam to heat the buildings. The power plant’s boilers use mostly coal — 49 percent — followed by natural gas at 47 percent.

All other business-related activities — travel in owned and leased vehicles, operation of heavy machinery, release of volatile organic compounds from paint, furniture refinishing, etc. — accounted for the remaining 4 percent of the House’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The full report and executive summary of the preliminary report is available at www.speaker.gov.