US Congress to Turn 90% of its Trash Into Energy


Photo credit: Abeeeer via Flickr/CC BY

The policies that Congressmen and women adhere to in their everyday lives occasionally act as a useful reflection of the political trends pulling at the nation in general. Consider earlier this year, when invigorated, Tea Party-backed Republicans did away with the biodegradable utensils and cookware in Congress's cafeteria and replaced them with styrofoam. They didn't need to do that; they did it to signal their discontent with what they considered frivolous green policies. Green fads be damned! They were going to eat the old fashioned way, generating heaps of garbage in the process ...

So consider the implications of this news: Congress is about to embark on a GOP-approved waste to energy operation that will turn its trash into heat.Earth 911 reports:

the Architect of the Capitol (AoC), the agency that recently assumed responsibility for the House's sustainability initiatives, announced a new destination for the 5,300 tons of non-recyclable trash generated by Congressional facilities annually.

Starting next month, Congress' waste will be burned to create heat, which will, in turn, produce usable steam and electricity. Designed to complement existing recycling programs, this process will divert up to 90 percent of the Capitol campus' non-recyclable waste, according to the AoC.

Waste to energy isn't perfect. It still generates greenhouse gas emissions and particulate pollution. But good, modernized facilities -- like this one in Copenhagen, Denmark -- can make the process pretty darn clean. And here's the kicker: "Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), who led the repeal of Congress' composting program earlier this year, expressed support for the new waste-to-energy plan," Earth 911 reports.

In other words, the same guy who got rid of composting and biodegradable utensils because they were too hippie dippy, is totally cool with recycling trash into energy.

His statement says: "Waste-to-energy facilities, woefully underutilized here in the U.S., are an environmentally efficient, cost-effective means to reduce greenhouse emissions and divert waste from landfills." You'd think that composting too would be considered an "environmentally efficient" and "cost-effective" way to do both those things too, but nope. The difference is cultural: Composting has been branded as a hippie activity -- and therefore politically advantageous to rally conservatives against -- while waste-to-energy is industrial and practical-seeming.

This also partly reveals why Republicans have such a tough time making the argument against clean energy in general: It's technology, it's industrial, and it's practical. The sector has moved far beyond the hippie sphere and into the mainstream, where it captures the imagination of a public that recognizes its exciting potential.

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