Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Several thousand people are expected to gather on Monday for a massive protest at the coal-fired plant that provides power to the U.S. Capitol. Organizers from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Rainforest Action Network, and Greenpeace anticipate that it will be the largest display of civil disobedience against global warming in United States history.

Today, however, it appears that Congressional leaders have preempted them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to the Acting Architect of the Capitol, Stephen T. Ayers, on Thursday asking that the Capitol Power Plant (CPP) switch to 100 percent natural gas for its operations.

“While the costs associated with purchasing additional natural gas will certainly be higher, the investment will far outweigh its cost,” they wrote. “The switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide.”

They also note that converting will reduce the cost of storing and transporting coal and the costs of cleaning up fly ash and waste. It would help clean up the air around the city and “demonstrate that Congress can be a good and conscientious neighbor by mitigating health concerns for residents and workers around Capitol Hill,” they said.

“Taking this major step toward cleaning up the Capitol Power Plant’s emissions would be an important demonstration of Congress’ willingness to deal with the enormous challenges of global warming, energy independence and our inefficient use of finite fossil fuels,” they conclude.

The next step is to get funding for retrofitting two boilers at the plant, which will come via the regular legislative appropriations process. In the letter, they direct the architect to notify them as to the costs, and plan to have one replaced this summer, and the other by the end of the year.

That doesn’t mean the big protest on Monday is off, according to organizers. A Greenpeace staffer just dropped Grist a line to let us know that “plans for the protest haven’t changed.” While the shift from leadership is positive, there are still hundreds of other power plants burning coal around the country.

“It sounds like we’re making progress before we even get there,” said organizer (and Grist board member) Bill McKibben, adding that the protest is aimed at more than just this specific power plant. “Of course our real protest is aimed at coal power all over the country, and Nancy Pelosi could help rewrite the rules for that as well, which would be even more important.”

UPDATE: Organizers just sent out an official statement about the power plant development.

“The more than 2,500 people coming to Washington to call for a solution to the climate crisis and an end to the use of coal are still coming because the climate is still in crisis and coal is still driving that crisis,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Rainforest Action Network. “Today’s move reflects Congress’s growing awareness that the public is demanding change.”