A grade school metric system error cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars extra for the first purchase of carbon offsets for the House of Representatives’ “Greening of the Capitol” initiative, a program designed to counter greenhouse gas emissions created on the government campus.
Rather than buying the desired 30,000 short tons of emission offsets, the House bought 30,000 metric tons at an additional cost of $25,000, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Friday.
The GAO report, which comes as Congress grapples over the high-finance of a $700 billion Wall Street bailout package, said the excessive purchase was “an administrative error” and noted that the Chicago Climate Exchange will hold the excess money and apply it to future offset purchases. A short ton weighs 2,000 pounds; a metric ton, defined as 1,000 kilograms, weighs 2,204.6 pounds.
The report said the House failed to reach its goal of carbon neutrality because two other clean energy measures in addition to the offset purchases were not met.
The report further examined the relatively new practice of buying carbon offsets, whereby a company or entity that cannot reduce its emissions pays an entity that can, and found that its credibility was lacking.
More than 600 entities sell such offsets in the U.S., however the “market’s transparency is limited,” the report said. Federal oversight is also limited, and consumers are “provided limited assurance of credibility.”
Some Republican lawmakers say that the initiative, lead by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is an example of symbolism being elevated over substance.
“In our rush to demonstrate our green bona fides, we failed to remember our number one mission — to safeguard the public’s money,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Mrs. Pelosi’s office did not return a call for comment.
The total carbon footprint of the House is estimated to be 91,000 short tons. Democrats hoped to reduce that to 34,000 tons by purchasing electricity generated from renewable resources, which was not done, and then reduce it further to 24,000 short tons by burning natural gas rather than coal and oil — also not done.
So, while the House overpaid for the carbon credits, it still did not reduce the size of its carbon footprint, the report said.
“Without proper assurances, the only thing we know carbon-offset purchases reduce are taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on domestic policy.