Government Purchasing: Green Consumers on the Hill

Congress makes sure that it outfits itself with the best of most things. With nearly 25,000 staff aides and 535 members of the national legislature, there are gleaming new office buildings, latest office equipment, recreational gyms, cafeterias, and plush, “snap your fingers” services.

Wallowing in its perks, Congress cannot even put on a show of practicing what many of its members are preaching — energy conservation, water conservation and paper recycling.

Our Government Purchasing Project just completed a survey of Capitol Hill and the results were even worse than expectations. No Green consumerism here.

Energy efficient lighting is not available in Congressional offices. Compact fluorescent light are gaining widespread adoption around the country, but in Congress they are not yet available. Ray Carroll, director of engineering for the Capitol Architect, told our researcher: “I have no idea whether compact fluorescents are available.” This attitude explains why some Senate staffers are getting nowhere in their quest for more efficient lighting.

In 1989, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) gave Congress a report with sensible recommendations that would reduce lighting costs by at least 50 percent. Congress ignored most of these advisories. I recall testifying before a Senate committee on energy conservation in the mid-Seventies. Large blinds blocked the sunlight from the many large windows in the hearing room, so that the artificial light could flood the room with energy waste.

Daylight sensors could be used in halls to turn off lights when the sunlight is sufficient. One area in the cannon Office Building contained 144 light bulbs competing with a flood of sunlight.

There are more than a few office workers on Capitol Hill who often wear warm clothing to compensate for excessive air conditioning in the summer. Many thermostats were set at 65 degrees, although federal regulations provide for summer temperatures of 76 degrees.

What is even more reckless is the sluggishness of the Capitol Architect’s Office (CAO) in applying for dollar rebates for energy saving projects from the local electric utility, PEPCO. Numerous energy saving plans for Congress were approved by PEPCO following preinspections. All CAO had to do was to complete the planned work and tens of thousands of dollars in rebates, not to mention annual electricity bill savings, would flow. Nine to twelve months after approval, the Architect’s office still has not done the work that would earn the rebates.

Congress uses lots of paper. But it is not recycled, post-consumer content paper. What little recycled paper is used comes from paper plants that always have used scraps and cuttings from the factory floor. Congress uses lots or water. According to engineering director, Ray Carroll, there are no water-conserving faucet aerators or shower heads in the Capitol complex of buildings. We found that aerators can be purchased in bulk for 68 cents each and pay for themselves within two months.

As with recycled paper and energy efficiency, saving water saves taxpayers money, helps the environment and sets an example for the country. Egads! Imagine Congress setting an example for the country — not until you write your Senators and Representatives and receive a clear reply that they will get behind green consumerism right where they work and spend your money.

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