Congress and Dirty Air

Politics is simply – too political. There is so much effort taken to ensure election permanency, that there appears to be little time to drive agendas that would embrace a national benefit. In the process of building the necessary campaign infrastructure to troll for votes, we have become too polarized. This polarization does demonstrate one consistency: by not allowing something to be done, nothing of substance is done and no one benefits. There is not even any good debate to engage minds in trying to understand the pros and cons of positions being argued but rarely acted upon.

The environment is one such area of rabid disagreement. Yet, it is our governments, collectively, that have an opportunity to demonstrate what is possible with the right focus and discipline – to lead by example. One such opportunity lies right in the heart of the National Capitol Complex.

Before I share the article, let me plant a thought. Just as we created the Department of Homeland Security to become the fulcrum for all of the many entities that have historically worked independently to ensure our national safety, perhaps it is now time to better “organize” our national agenda on the environment. Perhaps it makes sense to undertake a national program for the environment much like Japan had done after World War II to restore its economic stability. We already have some pieces that could be a blueprint for moving forward. DARPA is one such piece.

In 1949, Japan created the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

“At the height of its influence, it effectively ran much of Japanese industrial policy, funding research and directing investment. In 2001, its role was taken over by the newly created Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)…At the time it was created, Japan was still recovering from the economic disaster of World War II.

MITI has been responsible not only in the areas of exports and imports but also for all domestic industries and businesses not specifically covered by other ministries in the areas of investment in plant and equipment, pollution control, energy and power, some aspects of foreign economic assistance, and consumer complaints. This span has allowed MITI to integrate conflicting policies, such as those on pollution control and export competitiveness, to minimize damage to export industries.

The article that raised the flag for me recently appeared in the New York Times – Cut Emissions? Congress Itself Keeps Burning a Dirtier Fuel. Congress can come up with all of the excuses why is should or not should not something. It has refined this process in recent years. Its power plant generation needs demonstrate the hypocricy of this thinking.

“The plant, which provides heating and cooling to the sprawling Capitol campus — 23 buildings that include the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and Congressional office buildings, in addition to the Capitol building itself — is operated by Congress, and its transition to cleaner energy sources has been mired in national politics for years…”

The plant presently burns coal to satisfy its energy needs. It seems that the Congressional staff from coal producing states think it is important for the industry that the plant continue burning coal. To change would suggest there might be something wrong with our abundant supplies of coal and show partiality to another segment of our energy industry. That is simply bad politics.

And, in this era of budget challenges, it is difficult to argue that conversion costs are not necessary “at this time”. That shows prudence. It was estimated that

“converting the plant to burn natural gas exclusively would have required a modernization costing $6 million to $7 million.”

What about using this one small power plant to demonstrate that the federal government has the will to cross political boundaries and advance a national agenda? Without using this as a platform of endorsement, it is small enough to implement a long sought solution to emissions generation. With this simple, little power plant, Congress could begin the slow process of engineering changes to processes that need to be revitalized for succeeding generations. It is not always about the NOW.

It is relatively easy for the Federal Government to take the lead and change light bulbs in its vast complex of plants and buildings. It is relatively easy for the Federal Government to take the lead and replace obsolete vehicles with newer, more energy efficient vehicles. It is relatively easy because these are merely changes in a procurement process.

With this simple, little power plant, Congress could take action to either support the design and development of commercial solutions to provide clean-burning coal, or become a testbed for emerging power technology. Congress could actually begin to document what works and what does not work. Congress could actually begin to understand the true costs of design and development of emerging environmental solutions and not simply rely on the evidence provided by the very companies who have a stake in the outcome – either because of the technology or the political district in which it resides.

Wouldn’t that be innovative.

Congress could begin to Talk the Talk AND Walk the Walk. And, rather than merely change light bulbs and replace fleet vehicles, they might begin to change behavior!

To really understand what a dramatic impact visible behavioral changes by Congress can have, I offer a short read about Leading by Example. I found an interesting site that shares how our actions can easily influence those around us. The site is Mind Tools and its content is Leading by Example – Making Sure You Walk the Walk.

Yes, a simple power generation plant might just be able to allow our highly polarized Congress to take a small step towards earning the votes they so eagerly seek during each election cycle. When you have completed the Times article, you will see that many benefits accrue to the federal government that allow it to continue without penalty. Many local recipients of these emissions put it another way:

“This is more evidence Congress doesn’t have concern for health impacts in the region. I think they have their own imaginary interests in mind and have no regard whatsoever for the people. They think they are above the law.”

Then, again, for many, the Federal government is working just fine. Why change what’s not broken?

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