By Margaret Talev
The U.S. Capitol is a national symbol, but when it comes to energy efficiency, it's no role model. It's overheated in the winter, lighted by thousands of bulbs, brimming over with copy paper and short on recycling containers.
Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is tapping the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives to launch a 'green' initiative that recommends ways to make the Capitol complex cleaner and more energy efficient.
She's asked Dan Beard, who's been on the job for only a month but who has decades of conservation experience, to put together a preliminary set of recommendations by the end of April.
'There's a host of things in the green-building area that companies and institutions all over America are doing on a regular basis,' said Beard, 63, who has served as President Clinton's Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, a National Audubon Society official and a private management consultant.
'We're going to look at what can we implement over what time period, how much energy would it save and how much would it cost.' He'll consult with Senate officials and the Architect of the Capitol. He'll also look to states such as California that have embraced green initiatives at their capitols and state universities, and to companies as large as Wal-Mart.
For Pelosi, the initiative meshes with an environmentalist legacy that she seems keen on shaping.
Since her swearing-in two months ago, she has banned smoking from the speaker's lobby off the House floor and announced plans to push for House passage of anti-global-warming legislation that could put emissions limits on cars and buildings.
This isn't the first effort to make the Capitol, whose construction began more than 200 years ago, more energy efficient. Energy legislation passed two years ago under the Republican-controlled Congress tasked the Architect of the Capitol's office with promoting energy conservation activities.
The office already was moving in that direction. Since 2003, energy consumption is down 6 percent in the complex, which includes the Capitol building and multiple Senate and House office buildings, said spokeswoman Eva Malecki.
That's been achieved through the gradual introduction of fluorescent light bulbs, motion detectors that turn off lights in empty rooms, low-flow toilets and air-tight windows.
While the focus of the Architect of the Capitol is the historic buildings, Beard's scope is broader.
He'll look at whether asphalt in the Capitol's parking lots should be replaced with gravel or bricks to minimize runoff. He'll survey how many of the roughly 10,000 House employees are taking advantage of programs that reward them for taking public transportation to work instead of cars.
He'll also look at the origin, efficiency and disposal methods of office supplies, computers, telephones and food services.
'Are we purchasing the right kind of products from vendors that are promoting sustainable practices?' he said. 'The Capitol is a very difficult building to heat, cool, light. And it's a national symbol, so it's not something you can just rip apart and redo. It's a challenge.'
By Margaret Talev