Stick a Fork in it: GOP Defunds 'Green the Capitol' Initiative

Plastic spoons and Styrofoam cups make comeback on Hill

February 28, 2011, 4:23 PM

March 4, 2011— -- You can debate whether or not it is a good thing or bad thing, but here's one tangible accomplishment for the new Republican Congress: They've brought plastic and Styrofoam back to the House cafeteria.

Republicans are practically giddy about the change: They've turned the clock back on one of Nancy Pelosi's pet projects.

When Pelosi became Speaker of the House in 2007, she launched an initiative called "Green the Capitol." The centerpiece of the project was the Capitol cafeteria. She replaced the greasy French fries (which Republicans called Freedom Fries), plastic ware and Styrofoam cups with locally grown organic food, recyclable utensils and cups made of cornstarch.

In the effort to make the Capitol a beacon of environmentalism, Pelosi's program also converted the Capitol Power Plant from coal to natural gas and installed more than 13,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) across the House of Representatives campus. A report from April 2010 found that those greener efforts actually reduced energy consumption in Capitol buildings by 23 percent, and water consumption by 32 percent.

But the changes weren't cheap, and now Republicans say enough is enough: They've had it with the flimsy utensils, the rows of recycling bins, and the $475,000 per year it costs to truck the compostable waste off to a facility in Virginia.

Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., chairman of the House Administration Committee, announced the indefinite suspension of the composting program in January, a change implemented this week with the reintroduction of Styrofoam cups and plastic utensils to Congressional cafeterias.

"It's one of those things that didn't work," Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., told ABC News. "Let's not perpetuate this. It takes more energy, it costs taxpayers money and it doesn't work."

Pelosi's 'Greening the Capitol' Ends

Walden also pointed out the utensils, known to melt after moderate exposure to heat or moisture, weren't exactly functional.

"Who wants forks that dissolve while you are eating them?" Walden quipped.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon who commutes to the Capitol by bicycle, is fighting back. Blumenauer is concerned the repeal of this initiative sends the wrong message to Americans and business owners.

"Ultimately this [recycling and composting] is what America will do. This is what progressive employers are doing. If Congress wants to set an example by taking a step backward, so be it," Blumenauer said.

Blumenauer's concerns are financial as well. According to a study released by the Democratic Minority Staff of The Committee on House Administration, "ungreening" the U.S. Capitol will cost the American taxpayer $50 million over 10 years, a calculation based on unrealized savings that result from ending the program before it has been fully implemented.

"This is the definition of government waste, yet it is coming from a Republican majority that cannot stop talking about cutting deficits," Blumenauer said.

Republican cuts extend beyond the cafeteria: The GOP-led House recently voted to cut funding for energy-efficient light bulbs and the installation of solar panels as well.

As for the cafeteria itself, it seems current Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, never liked the fancier food in the first place.

"I like the food we had before -- real food -- food I can pronounce the name of," Boehner said.

Arugula certainly doesn't quite roll off the tongue quite like "Freedom Fries."