Pelosi and Reid: No more coal for Capitol Power Plant

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No doubt spurred on by the impending civil disobedience, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) posted a statement and a letter on her blog (here):

Today, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent the following letter to the Acting Architect of the Capitol, Stephen T. Ayers, asking that the Capitol Power Plant (CPP) use 100 percent natural gas for its operations. They write, “the switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide… We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels.”

UPDATE: Bill McKibben, who helped organize the impending civil disobedience at the CPP emails me “just to say, this civil disobedience stuff kind of works. How many coal plants are there?

Here is the letter:

February 26, 2009
Mr. Stephen T. Ayers

Acting Architect of the Capitol
SB-15 U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Ayers:

We want to commend your office for working to implement the Green the Capitol Initiative by increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is a shadow that hangs over the success of your and our efforts to improve the environmental performance of the Capitol and the entire Legislative Branch. The Capitol Power Plant (CPP) continues to be the number one source of air pollution and carbon emissions in the District of Columbia and the focal point for criticism from local community and national environmental and public health groups.

Since 1910, as you know, the CPP has continuously provided the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, and other facilities with steam and chilled water for heating and cooling purposes. The plant remains an important component of the facilities master plan and the future of the Capitol complex, and we know your office has taken steps to make the plant cleaner and more efficient. While your progress has been noteworthy, more must be done to dramatically reduce plant emissions and the CPP’s impact. Since there are not projected to be any economical or feasible technologies to reduce coal-burning emissions soon, there are several steps you should take in the short term to reduce the amount of coal burned at the plant while preparing for a conversion to cleaner burning natural gas.

We encourage you to take advantage of current excess capacity to burn cleaner fuels and reduce pollution. According to the General Accounting Office (GAO) and an independent analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the boilers at the CPP are now running with more capacity than has been historically demanded or anticipated. Even with the new Capitol Visitor Center in operation, these analyses show there is sufficient capacity to further increase the burning of natural gas and still meet energy demands at peak hours.

We are also interested in identifying and supporting funding to retrofit CPP if necessary so that it can operate on 100 percent natural gas. Unfortunately, our staff has received conflicting information and cost estimates on what would actually be required to operate the CPP year-round with exclusively natural gas. If a retrofit of two remaining boilers is indeed required, then we encourage you to develop realistic budget numbers to accomplish the retrofit expeditiously including any costs for the purchase of additional quantities of natural gas. In your budget analysis, it is important to take into account that time is of the essence for converting the fuel of the CPP. Therefore it is our desire that your approach focus on retrofitting at least one of the coal boilers as early as this summer, and the remaining boiler by the end of the year.

While the costs associated with purchasing additional natural gas will certainly be higher, the investment will far outweigh its cost. The switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide. The conversion will also reduce the cost of storing and transporting coal as well as the costs associated with cleaning up the fly ash and waste. Eliminating coal from the fuel mixture should also assist the City of Washington, D.C., in meeting and complying with national air quality standards, and demonstrate that Congress can be a good and conscientious neighbor by mitigating health concerns for residents and workers around Capitol Hill.

Taking this major step toward cleaning up the Capitol Power Plant’s emissions would be an important demonstration of Congress’ willingness to deal with the enormous challenges of global warming, energy independence and our inefficient use of finite fossil fuels. We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

best regards,

Speaker of the House

Senate Majority Leader

14 Responses to Pelosi and Reid: No more coal for Capitol Power Plant

  1. paulm says:

    Solutions Canada…

    Plans for BC, Alberta and eleven states to produce and export renewable energy.

    The provincial government has scoped out nine regions for large-scale wind and hydro development in British Columbia, part of an international plan to build and export renewable electricity across western North America.

    It’s called the Western Renewable Energy Zones (WREZ) initiative…

  2. This is a victory for the issue, but what happens to the momentum of organizing a tremendous demonstration? Clearly when faced with an event that would have included mass arrests they chose the politically wise path. But also they seem to be worried about the organization that is congealing…otherwise they would have announced on Monday.

    So what now ? Should it be a celebration? Giving thanks to Pelosi and Reid? Perhaps they should speak on Monday.

  3. paulm says:

    Now wipe with something else

    American taste for soft toilet roll ‘worse than driving Hummers’

  4. oh, there will still be a protest. this was always just a symbol of the thousands of these things out there. what pelosi and reid have shown is how easily they can be turned off!

  5. There must still be a protest. While the letter is good news, it is only a letter and a very easy thing for the Speaker to do. Words are nice, but action is everything.

    The Speaker “encourages” the plant to burn cleaner fuels and cause less pollution. I think we’re past the point of such optional sounding steps. Strong encouragement is not enough, however well intentioned.

    Let’s lay down the law and lay it down fast. It’s time to up the ante from letter to legislation.

    It’s time for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to join this civil disobedience and send a much bigger message than her missive does. She’s already in DC. She can march right over and get arrested.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Of course they would do far better to convert to biomethane. Some can readily be obtained via proper management of the Washington, DC, waste water facility. More can be obtained by further anaerobic digestion of artifically grown algae.

    Would provide a good example and demonstration project which could then be widely duplicated.

  7. Gail D says:

    ya know, Bill, we have a 40 year old filthy coal plant up here in NH (PSNH owned Merrimack Station coal plant in Bow, NH) So feel free to pack up and move the DC stint up this way. With this DC success already under your belt, you should consider taking this show on the road!

  8. Blaine C says:

    awesome! now let’s get Nancy to really put her money where her mouth is and put a stop to all that military/war funding — single largest consumer of oil in the world? U.S. military. World’s largest polluter, with over 750,000 tons of toxic waste annually? U.S. military/DoD. Converting the capitol coal plant is a fantastic start, but there are many other coal plants out there, and many other ways for Nancy, Harry & their friends to show that they really mean business when it comes to climate change — let’s get on it!

  9. Greg Robie says:

    My first response is that this is bad news.

    How we live and what has been done (as in not done) during our adult lifetimes, makes it apparent that us liberal/progressive climate realist oldsters are only going to go so far in our personal integrity and the needed lifestyle changes to redress kilmakatastrophe (an example from this thread: the sate that was at the heart of the Clam Shell Alliance is now feeling a need for outsiders to come in and do their civil disobedience for them).

    By this letter, and its timing, it seems there are some devious psychologists advising the government, or then again, maybe to be a successful politician you need to be a deviant in your psychology. While the mobilazation of a younger generation to “petition their government” (to the point of civil disobedience) may yet happen to accomplish what we oldsters lack the integrity to do, from my experience of what psychologically played out in the ’60s, this letter is a brilliant, if sociopathic–relative to the threat klimakatastrophe represents to human society–preemptive psychological counter strike. If the political leadership really wanted our youth to lead, the impending civil disobedience would have been part of the content of this letter. Rather than just being posted to a website, there would have been a joint press conference with the President acknowledging there gratefulness for the leadership this next generation is trying to provide (but for the pragmatism, piety, and headonism of us oldsters).

    In my experience, the gap between those who will put their lives on the line for what they believe in, and those who can rationalize their fear of living with integrity away and muddle through/get along, is always a hard psychological–and statistical–gap to bridge. This letter, but more importantly its timing, has a high probability for preventing that bridge from being constructed, and primarily because what happens Monday will barely get one news cycle. I was looking forward to seeing how the main stream press would handle the arrest of “important people” (a top level climate scientist and a former vice president (if Al Gore, after calling for civil disobedience, was going to walk his talk as well) and a buch of “unimportant” people.

    As I go very cynical I wonder what role the Secret Service has played in getting this letter written. Did they have insurmountable challenges for doing their job if Gore did his?

  10. Jay Alt says:

    It’s a letter. In the past attmpts were made to switch over but powerful senators derailed them. Environmentalists are stronger now but see what happens before celebrating. (oops I said the e-word here. sorry)

  11. Roger says:

    Kudos to Bill M. and the other organizers of this action. It’s a giant step!

    Getting started is always the hardest part. So, let’s start a list…

    We need to keep encouraging more of our leaders to lead.

  12. Rod Adams says:

    As a guy who works in DC and once spent about a year working and working out within blocks of the Capitol Power Plant, I congratulate the activists who are willing to go to jail to make it a little bit cleaner by moving it from coal to natural gas. That will reduce the carbon dioxide production by about 20-30% over what it would be to produce the same amount of heat and chilled water as burning all coal.

    However, I am not sure that it is a tremendous victory worth celebrating to move from one mostly carbon hydrocarbon like coal to another mostly hydrogen hydrocarbon like methane (aka “natural” gas). Not only are we still having to breathe the fouled air and not only do we still have climate changing gases pouring out of the smoke stack, but we are still enriching the fossil fuel pushers that sell the natural gas just as readily as they sell the coal.

    We have a non carbon source of heat that works reliably on the same 8766 hour per year schedule as combustion – it is called fission. I once spent 11 different 70 day periods sealed up within 200 feet of a well built, operated and maintained atomic heat source. I would love it if the US Congress looked into the idea of replacing the boilers at the CPP with a reliable fission heat source like the one used to heat a Swiss village called Beznau.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

  13. Ray says:

    A global warming protest during a blizzard…that is so funny!