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Democrats: It’s not easy being green

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

DENVER | Throwing the "greenest national political convention to date" is easier said than done, as Democrats are learning the hard way.

Amid much fanfare, Democratic National Convention officials have for months promoted their commitment to an environmentally sustainable event.

They've hired a first-ever "director of greening," set an ambitious recycling goal of 85 percent, and banished plastic water bottles and plastic foam cups from the premises.

With the convention a little more than one month away, however, it's apparent that some Democrats are greener than others. Only three state delegations have agreed to eliminate entirely their carbon footprints by purchasing travel offsets, despite the pleas of convention organizers.

The heavily vegetarian "Lean 'N Green" menu has touched off a slew of gripes, ranging from caterers who can't find enough Colorado-grown organic vegetables to Denver City Council member Charlie Brown calling menu planners "the food police."

The biggest environmental disaster to befall the convention hit two weeks ago, when the Barack Obama campaign announced that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee would make his acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High stadium.

The decision to move to the stadium threw a Chernobyl-sized wrench into the sustainability plan. Switching the venue from the Pepsi Center, which seats fewer than 20,000, to Invesco, which holds 78,000, threatens to saddle the convention with the Shaquille O'Neal of carbon footprints.

Democratic officials have remained tight-lipped on the environmental impact of the move, saying they're still crunching the kilowatt numbers.

"We're still in the early stages of planning for Invesco, so we can't give any early estimates of what the impact will look like," said Damon Jones, spokesman for the Democratic National Convention Committee.

That void has allowed Republican bloggers to chime in with their own estimates without fear of contradiction. The most scientific-sounding analysis comes from blogger RiNOsaurusRex, who says the move to Invesco Field could quadruple the event's carbon-dioxide emissions.

His figures are based on the amount of electricity required to fire up the 78,000-seat stadium and the additional cars filling the 20,000-vehicle lot. The Pepsi Center, the site for the rest of the convention, holds 5,000 cars in its parking lot.

The Invesco Field speech could, therefore, result in more pollution emissions than all four days and nights combined of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., according to the blogger's estimates.

"Who knew Obama's ego would be so costly ... to the environment?" concluded RiNOsaurusRex in an article titled "Obama Speech is Environmental Disaster."

Those estimates, however, assume that everyone who attends Mr. Obama's speech will be driving, which won't necessarily be the case. Organizers are examining other transportation alternatives, including the nearby light rail, Mr. Jones said.

Democrats also took issue with reports that the menu offered no fried foods and had to feature at least three of five colors on each plate - including "blue/purple" - saying these were only recommendations.

Things are simpler in St. Paul, where organizers of the Republican National Convention are taking a more laissez-faire approach to the event's environmental sustainability.

"We have numerous initiatives, but we don't have anyone rifling through the trash," said Melissa Subbotin, a Republican convention spokeswoman. "We believe it's incumbent on all our staff to be proactive."

At the same time, Republican organizers have pointed out that presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain will make his acceptance speech at the Xcel Energy Center, the same venue as the rest of the convention's main events.

As for the menu, it's sure to feature a local favorite, battered and fried walleye, the state fish, which Miss Subbotin described as "delicious."

"We're not mandating a specific menu. We're offering fried foods and letting people who attend decide what they want to eat," she said.

While keeping the convention environmentally neutral is a top priority, Democrats say, it's not the only priority.

"Our No. 1 objective has been to include as many people as possible," Mr. Jones said. "Obviously, the environmental impact is important to us, but at the end of the day, you have to balance these goals."