While I am not one to say “I told you so” [cough, cough], what else is the proper response to today’s Washington Post story by David Fahrenthold: “House Is Abandoning Carbon Neutral Plan: Move Highlights Congress’s Green Struggle“:
The U.S. House of Representatives has abandoned a plan to make its offices “carbon neutral,” a sign that Congress is wrestling with a pledge to become more green even as it crafts sweeping legislation on climate change.
The promise that the House would effectively reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero was a centerpiece of the Green the Capitol program in which the new Democratic leadership sought to use Capitol Hill as a kind of a national demonstration project.
But last week, a spokesman for the House’s chief administrative officer said the chamber’s leadership had dropped an essential part of the plan, the purchase of “carbon offsets” to cancel out emissions from its buildings.
I had been quoted criticizing the rip-offset purchase, especially from the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), in a Fahrenthold piece from a year ago (see House carbon offsets “a waste of taxpayer money”).
So I applaud the House decision, as I told Fahrenthold in an interview he didn’t use [Note to self: Get over it!]. I wouldn’t, however, frame it the way he did in the piece.
I don’t see how abandoning a bad idea “highlights Congress’s Green Struggle.” I also don’t see how the relatively pointless purchase of rip-offsets, especially from the CCX, could be called the centerpiece of a “Green the Capitol … national demonstration project.”
After all, you don’t need the House of Representatives to demonstrate to anybody how to buy rip-offsets. Quite the reverse, you need them to demonstrate that buying rip-offsets just doesn’t make economic or environmental sense.
Indeed, the 2008 story tracked down the rip-offset projects the taxpayer money went to and showed how dubious they were. It also quoted the amazing words of CCX CEO Richard Sandor:
It basically rewards people for having done things that had environmental good in the past and incentivizes people to do things that have environmental good in the future.
Rewarding people for past environmental behavior may be a great thing — “pin a rose on them,” as my mother says — but it ain’t offsetting pollution. It is rip-offsetting it.
So kudos to the House for this move.
Now that the House leadership seems to understand what a pointless investment rip-offsets are, they need to make sure that rip-offsets don’t become the basis of the big climate bill leaders are starting to put together (see “You can call a rip-offset a CDM project, but it’s still a rip-offset“).
Even Congress’s own Government Accountability Office — hardly a bastion of progressive eco-analysis — has studied them and concluded “The use of carbon offsets in a cap-and-trade system can undermine the system’s integrity.”
You don’t want to end up with — and you certainly don’t want to start with — the USCAP proposal (see “NRDC and EDF endorse the weak, coal-friendly, rip-offset-heavy USCAP climate plan“). Same for Boxer-Lieberman-Warner (Boxer bill update: Probably no U.S. CO2 emissions cut until after 2025).
So the big question now is, can the House preach what it practices?