Pelosi’s Green House Costs Cash, Carries Risk

Amanda Carpenter
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Posted: Jun 25, 2007 9:00 AM
Pelosi’s Green House Costs Cash, Carries Risk

If you hear Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) ask how many staffers it would take to change all the light bulbs in the House of Representatives, be warned it’s not a joke. Replacing all desk lamps within her Capitol jurisdiction with energy efficient bulbs is a part of the slogan-happy Speaker’s agenda to “Green the Capitol” as well as make the country “energy independent” by Independence Day.

What isn’t part of her sloganeering are the costs and even possible health risks that come with her plans.

At the same time as Pelosi presented her “Greening of the Capitol Initiative” to make the House “carbon neutral” by the end of the 110th Congress, House Democrats worked to pass separate energy bills that Pelosi will later cobble together to form a large energy package. So far, these bills are already slated to include $6 million fund for “green energy” projects and tax domestic energy producers $16 billion.

On June 21, Pelosi announced the House would reduce carbon emissions by cutting back on electricity and using renewable resources at a cost of $520,000, replacing the House’s coal-fired power with natural gas at cost of $2.75 million, and purchasing carbon offsets from the Chicago Climate Exchange at a cost of $95,000 per year.

Included in the Greening of the Capitol Initiative report was a lengthy list of proposals to reduce energy consumption inside House office buildings, like increasing transit benefits for House employees, specifying low-volatile organic compound paint, furniture and carpets for office use and replacing desk lamps with energy efficient light bulbs.

The day before Pelosi presented this report, the House Energy and Commerce Committee engaged in a marathon 13-hour markup session of their energy bill that included a contentious fight over language to encourage Americans to use energy efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs--like the ones Pelosi would like to see installed in House desk lamps.

During the markup, Rep. Michael Burgess (R.-Tex.) raised the point that fluorescent light bulbs contain about 5 milligrams of mercury per bulb, a substance proven harmful to pregnant women and children. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15 states have taken legal steps to remove mercury in schools or through voluntary programs. The EPA also has posted guidelines for disposal of fluorescent light bulbs and advises that if a fluorescent light bulb is broken, persons should open a window and restrict access to the room for 15 minutes.

Incandescent light bulbs, which many environmentalists like former Vice President Al Gore want to ban, do not contain mercury.

Burgess, a licensed obstetrician, offered two amendments to prohibit CFL’s from being required to be installed in nursing homes, daycares or schools and to put mercury warning labels on CFL bulbs. During debate he said when he treated pregnant women, “I agonized over it when faced with giving pregnant women a vaccine that had thimerosal [a mercury containing organic compound] in it.”

The measures failed 13-16 and 14-16 respectively.

Democrats on the committee complained of existing “label fatigue” and said the three-fourths of a ton of mercury contained in the nation’s supply of CFL’s is not a significant amount to warrant opposition.

Work on the bill has not yet been completed and will be taken up again by the committee this week.

The $16 billion in domestic energy taxes and $6 billion green project fund came from the bill out of the House Ways and Means Committee which is chaired by Rep. Charlie Rangel (D.-N.Y.). His bill also contains a line item to enact Davis-Bacon labor standards, language to route $1.636 billion back to his home state of New York for transportation, and $10 million for limited fringe benefits to those who commute to work using a bicycle.

This bill passed out of committee 24-16 and is now headed for a floor vote.

Republicans have complained that the legislation being moved out of the five committees that have jurisdiction over energy issues do nothing to increase domestic energy supply or conserve energy.