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Remember that Green the Capitol program that House Democrats put into place shortly after regaining the majority in 2006? As a demonstration to the American people that green issues were of the utmost importance, the US House of Representatives announced plans to become the "World's First Carbon Neutral Legislative Body." So how's that grand gesture faring? Well, seeing as how the House has just abandoned its goals to be carbon neutral this year, I'd say--Not so good. After all, if Congress can't even meet its own green goals, how can the American people have faith in its leaders' ambitions for the nation?Abandoning Offsets, Splintering the Message
After successful 'carbon neutral' years in 2007 and 2008, in which Congress purchased $89,000 worth of carbon offsets, a spokesman has said there are no plans to purchase any offsets in 2009. And while this isn't to say Congress has given up on green issues—far from it—the failure to continue purchasing offsets sends an unfortunate message to the American public.
Between the failure of climate change bills, Pelosi and Reid's dubious last minute requests to 'green' the Capitol Power Plant with natural gas, and a general lack of unified message, Congressional leaders have yet to instill any confidence that change on the green front is coming.
An Offset Mess?
But it's not a black and white issue either. The reason Congress isn't purchasing offsets this year is ostensibly because of questions that arose about the previous offsets it bought. According to the WP,
The Washington Post reported last year that although the money was funneled to projects that captured greenhouse gases or avoided their emission, many had been completed before the House paid a cent. Experts said those issues make it hard to say that the House's money had caused the environmental benefits the chamber paid for.
And that very well could be the case—but carbon offsets are an experimental treatment for countering greenhouse emissions. There may unfortunately be some gray areas as to exactly how many tons of emissions an investment counters, or to which specific components of a program the the funding was allocated to. Perhaps the House should have done more research on their offset provider, Chicago Climate Exchange, before laying down nearly $100,000, if it was unsure which projects it would fund. And while carbon offsets certainly aren't the definitive answer to solving the climate problem, many are good, credible organizations that support alternative energy development or aid in mass tree-planting—organizations that don't deserve to be abandoned at the first signs of confusion.
Upholding Green Standards
Green steps are still being made in Congress—Harry Reid has promised climate change legislation by the end of the summer, and the new Bush-free administration paired with a greater Democratic majority will likely make life easier for getting green bills on the floor. But if leadership in the House is as concerned with cutting greenhouse gas emissions as the press statements it issues would have us believe, some kind of definitive action is needed. And successfully meeting the standards the House set for its own legislative body is a good place to start.