Compost from Congress

Henry Percy
The Washington Post informed us Saturday, in its oh-so-evenhanded way, that both Democrats and Republicans are culpable in the Compostable Congressional Cutlery Crusade:

When Democrats held the House, they introduced new cutlery made from corn. The good news: The utensils could be composted. The bad news: They cost more, did relatively little for the environment and warped when exposed to hot soup.

But Democratic leaders didn't kill the program. Instead, they waited until Republicans took over, then suggested they do it.

Republicans quickly obliged.

For now, they have introduced new utensils made - quite literally - out of oil and natural gas.

So the Democrats lived up to their stereotype -- spendthrift dreamers whose pet project "did relatively little for the environment" -- while the Republicans lived up to theirs, squanderers of fossil fuels.

But let's examine that assertion that the program did "relatively little for the environment." House Democrats introduced composting as part of their Green the Capitol initiative in 2007 (the Senate got aboard in 2008) at a cost of $475,000 per year. The goals were

to save energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But an internal report from the House's inspector general found that composting dinnerware actually used more energy, because of the pulper and the hauling trucks.

And, the inspector general found, added energy use meant that there was only a small savings in emissions. All told, the equivalent of taking just a single car off the road. (Democrats dispute that finding.)

Well of course the Dems "dispute that finding." After all, most of our esteemed lawmakers are lawyers, and they rebut an Inspector General's report by simply disputing it. There's another hidden cost here that no one seems to have noticed: carbon emissions! Yes, that deadly greenhouse gas. The $475,000 per year it took to run the program represents easily $2 million in economic activity. That assumes that the money Congress spends comes from taxes, but we know that nearly one dollar in every three in the federal budget comes from borrowing, largely from the Chinese, and money used to buy Treasures comes from profits or retained earnings, so $475,000 of federal spending probably represents more like $3 million in economic activity. Now any economic activity consumes energy, which consumption releases carbon into the atmosphere, which causes Global Warming -- err, Climate Change -- err, Climate Chaos -- err ... So the balance sheet for the great House Cutlery Caper shows not the equivalent of one car taken off the road but many large SUVs put on the road! Oh, the horror! Buy me some carbon offsets, quick! Get Al on the line! What? His carbon exchange is bankrupt? What??

When the Dems lost the House last fall, they suggested that the failed program be scrapped but let the mean Republicans do it so the Dems could maintain their greenness. "'Composting services in the National Capitol Region have not adequately matured to make this program a sustainable or cost efficient enterprise for the House,' Brady and Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.) wrote."

Talk about magisterial bureaucratese: a failed, expensive program delivers a substandard product that no one wants to use, and it has simply "not adequately matured." Make no mistake, it's "mature," just not "adequately mature." What would real maturity be? Lower costs? Smaller carbon footprint? Utensils that actually worked? Democratic Congresspersons who said, "We made a mistake"?

I write this more in sorrow than in anger, for I have been a composter for well nigh two decades. Unlike the House's program, however, my process has "adequately matured": transport consists of walking the table scraps to the barrels by the back fence, chopping is accomplished in a bucket with a spade, and the contents of the barrel are mixed with a compost stirrer (my first one lasted over 10 years). So my energy input is low, and I don't get union scale for my labor.

Not everyone, however, is happy with the demise of an expensive, failed federal program. Allen Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council is appalled: "This is a throwback to the 20th century." This is, after all, the 21st century, the Dawning of the Age of Obama, when every item in the federal budget is sacrosanct, there "to move our country forward ... to create good-paying, green jobs ... to create a brighter future for our children."

Meanwhile, the Democrats have lost no time in attacking Republicans for taking their suggestion:

Democrats -- including some who suggested that Lungren make the change -- have bashed him for how he did it ... [and] criticized the new supplier of polystyrene cups, saying a top executive there was linked to the Koch brothers, who have given money to prominent GOP causes ... Some have applauded the House's return to sturdier cutlery. But one staffer said Friday that she had crossed the Capitol to eat on the Senate side: Democrats are still in control there, and the forks are still compostable. There's also talk of a boycott.

That's right, a boycott. Because we can never have enough of those. Will Jesse Jackson fly into town to inaugurate that struggle?

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.
The Washington Post informed us Saturday, in its oh-so-evenhanded way, that both Democrats and Republicans are culpable in the Compostable Congressional Cutlery Crusade:

When Democrats held the House, they introduced new cutlery made from corn. The good news: The utensils could be composted. The bad news: They cost more, did relatively little for the environment and warped when exposed to hot soup.

But Democratic leaders didn't kill the program. Instead, they waited until Republicans took over, then suggested they do it.

Republicans quickly obliged.

For now, they have introduced new utensils made - quite literally - out of oil and natural gas.

So the Democrats lived up to their stereotype -- spendthrift dreamers whose pet project "did relatively little for the environment" -- while the Republicans lived up to theirs, squanderers of fossil fuels.

But let's examine that assertion that the program did "relatively little for the environment." House Democrats introduced composting as part of their Green the Capitol initiative in 2007 (the Senate got aboard in 2008) at a cost of $475,000 per year. The goals were

to save energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But an internal report from the House's inspector general found that composting dinnerware actually used more energy, because of the pulper and the hauling trucks.

And, the inspector general found, added energy use meant that there was only a small savings in emissions. All told, the equivalent of taking just a single car off the road. (Democrats dispute that finding.)

Well of course the Dems "dispute that finding." After all, most of our esteemed lawmakers are lawyers, and they rebut an Inspector General's report by simply disputing it. There's another hidden cost here that no one seems to have noticed: carbon emissions! Yes, that deadly greenhouse gas. The $475,000 per year it took to run the program represents easily $2 million in economic activity. That assumes that the money Congress spends comes from taxes, but we know that nearly one dollar in every three in the federal budget comes from borrowing, largely from the Chinese, and money used to buy Treasures comes from profits or retained earnings, so $475,000 of federal spending probably represents more like $3 million in economic activity. Now any economic activity consumes energy, which consumption releases carbon into the atmosphere, which causes Global Warming -- err, Climate Change -- err, Climate Chaos -- err ... So the balance sheet for the great House Cutlery Caper shows not the equivalent of one car taken off the road but many large SUVs put on the road! Oh, the horror! Buy me some carbon offsets, quick! Get Al on the line! What? His carbon exchange is bankrupt? What??

When the Dems lost the House last fall, they suggested that the failed program be scrapped but let the mean Republicans do it so the Dems could maintain their greenness. "'Composting services in the National Capitol Region have not adequately matured to make this program a sustainable or cost efficient enterprise for the House,' Brady and Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.) wrote."

Talk about magisterial bureaucratese: a failed, expensive program delivers a substandard product that no one wants to use, and it has simply "not adequately matured." Make no mistake, it's "mature," just not "adequately mature." What would real maturity be? Lower costs? Smaller carbon footprint? Utensils that actually worked? Democratic Congresspersons who said, "We made a mistake"?

I write this more in sorrow than in anger, for I have been a composter for well nigh two decades. Unlike the House's program, however, my process has "adequately matured": transport consists of walking the table scraps to the barrels by the back fence, chopping is accomplished in a bucket with a spade, and the contents of the barrel are mixed with a compost stirrer (my first one lasted over 10 years). So my energy input is low, and I don't get union scale for my labor.

Not everyone, however, is happy with the demise of an expensive, failed federal program. Allen Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council is appalled: "This is a throwback to the 20th century." This is, after all, the 21st century, the Dawning of the Age of Obama, when every item in the federal budget is sacrosanct, there "to move our country forward ... to create good-paying, green jobs ... to create a brighter future for our children."

Meanwhile, the Democrats have lost no time in attacking Republicans for taking their suggestion:

Democrats -- including some who suggested that Lungren make the change -- have bashed him for how he did it ... [and] criticized the new supplier of polystyrene cups, saying a top executive there was linked to the Koch brothers, who have given money to prominent GOP causes ... Some have applauded the House's return to sturdier cutlery. But one staffer said Friday that she had crossed the Capitol to eat on the Senate side: Democrats are still in control there, and the forks are still compostable. There's also talk of a boycott.

That's right, a boycott. Because we can never have enough of those. Will Jesse Jackson fly into town to inaugurate that struggle?

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.