Energy Department Official Can’t Say How Much Greenhouse Gas Is Generated on Capitol Hill

By Penny Starr | July 23, 2010 | 5:14 PM EDT

Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) grilled Obama administration officials from the General Services Administration and the Department of Energy at a hearing last week on the slow progress of "greening" the federal government's operations in the nation's capitol. ( Starr)

( – At a House subcommittee hearing last week, an Energy Department official could not answer a question from a Republican lawmaker about how much pollution is emitted in the process of generating electricity for federal government operations in the nation’s capital.
“What is the total emissions of the electricity that we’re using on Capitol Hill today?” Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) asked Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy. “What is the total emissions annually of the electricity we’re using today on this hill?”
“We can get you the numbers on what the greenhouse gas inventory is for the federal government,” Hogan said. “That is what the agencies are working to put together as the result of executive order that we’ve been talking about.
“As part of that executive order, each agency has been asked to put together an aggressive greenhouse gas reduction target and then put together a strategy for how to meet that target,” Hogan said. “For the Department of Energy we’ve put together a goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by the year 2020, and to do that we will be investing more in renewable energy.”
When asked for the greenhouse gas emissions inventory for the federal government operations in Washington, D.C., a spokesperson for the Department of Energy said that greenhouse gas emissions are not measured by regions, but by each agency nationwide. The spokesperson also said that in the future, greenhouse gas emissions will be collected by zip code.
Last week’s hearing of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement was held to gauge how the federal government is doing in its efforts to “green” its operations, following an executive order issued by President Barack Obama on Oct. 5, 2009.
"As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies," Obama said of the nationwide presence of the federal government.
"This executive order builds on the momentum of the Recovery Act to help create a clean energy economy and demonstrates the Federal government’s commitment, over and above what is already being done, to reducing emissions and saving money," he added.
At the hearing, Bilbray, ranking member on the committee, began his remarks by apologizing for his skepticism about the government’s ability to be a good steward of the environment.

Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy said Bilbray's questions were important but she could not say how much greenhouse gas is emitted by the federal government each year from its electricity use. ( Starr)

“Madame Chair, I’d just like start off by apologizing to the panel because before you stands a man who stands as a very strong critic – I’m very cynical about this entire concept,” Bilbray said. “Sadly I’m not so cynical by nature. I’m very positive by nature. Living proof is I actually thought I could get elected some day.
“But the fact is after 40 years of involvement in the environmental movement; over 34 years involvement in government environmental strategies; just history has taught me that government is quick to make promises about the environment and not just slow to delivery but almost lacking in delivery,” Bilbray said.
Bilbray, who is serving his sixth term in the House, said that he was shocked by how much “dirty coal” is used to power the federal government in Washington, D.C., and that the government is punishing states while continuing its own old energy policies.
“Well, let me just tell you as a Californian, when I came here I was appalled to see the coal plants here,” Bilbray said. “In California, you go to prison for burning coal, O.K.? And for the federal government to be so punitive to those of us in California while we struggle to clean up our environment, then to come here to see what appears to be a total lack of standards.”
Bilbray asked another witness at the hearing with the General Services Administration why the federal government was not shopping for and using the zero-emissions technology that is available outside of the region.
“Are you here today to say that this is the cleanest portfolio that we can legally purchase?” Bilbray asked Kevin Kampschroer, director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings with the GSA. “That we are forced in the capitol of the United States to have to buy dirty coal energy to generate our light bulbs?
“Have you had anybody look at the possibility of specifically purchasing zero-emission electricity?” he asked.
“Today, GSA purchases zero-emission electricity at about 10 percent of its total electricity purchases across the board, and we have committed to reach 30 percent by year 2020,” Kampschroer said.
“Why 10 percent?” Bilbray said. “Why don’t we tell – basically say, ‘Look, we’re in the market. We’ll go buy zero-emission electricity and reel it into the region?’ Are we worried about the price of buying clean energy? Is that the problem?
“I know I say this because I know in California – and I think Madame Chair will know it – consumers have the ability to go shop, purchase clean technology, even it it’s paid at a premium, but that’s a consumer decision that individuals make,” Bilbray said. “We’re not allowed to make that – we can’t make that as the federal government sitting in the capital of the United States?”
“I am not aware of any law that would prevent us from making that decision,” Kampschroer said. “I am certain that there would be a cost impact of that decision.”
Bilbray said that the federal government needs to “do the right thing.”
“Think about what we’re doing here,” Bilbray said. “We ought to do conservation. It’s not just environmentally responsible, economically responsible.
“But if we’ve got the ability to make sure that you have zero greenhouse emissions caused by your electricity use, when do we stand up and say we’re willing to do the right thing and set an example for the rest of the country,” Bilbray said.
“I guess the counter argument – how do I face off with the people in Ohio and tell them they have to do without if those of us in Washington, D.C., won’t do without,” Bilbray said.
“I think you’re asking some very important questions,” Hogan said. “I think what the federal government is doing is getting organized to make important progress in all of the areas that you’re mentioning.
“And I think it's what’s important when you think about renewable energy, when you think about greenhouse gas emissions is you put together a strategy from how to get from where you are today to where you need to get to,” Hogan said.
Obama’s executive order detailed the energy consumed by the federal government nationwide.
“The Federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, employs more than 1.8 million civilians, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services,” a press release announcing the executive order said.