Lungren directed the House’s chief administrative officer (CAO) Dan Strodel to suspend the program, saying that a recent review by the CAO’s office and the chamber’s inspector general revealed that energy costs for the House increased by an estimated $475,000 each year under the program. Lungren championed the Architect of the Capitol’s “alternate waste management system,” which does not create environmentally harmful methane in its disposal of garbage.
“According to the [inspector general], the program has only achieved carbon reductions equivalent to removing one car from the road each year,” said a spokeswoman for the committee’s Republicans in a statement.
Pelosi's office said that it hoped the composting program would remain on the table in the future as the waste-removal industry becomes more affordable.
"Obviously, it is disappointing to see this important component of the program suspended," said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi. "The commercial food composting industry has not fully developed yet, and we would hope that when a closer commercial composting site opens and more competition brings down costs, the program would be re-instituted."The House’s composting program used a “pulper” in the basement of the House office buildings to purge liquid from the material before loading it on a truck and sending it to one of two sites in Maryland. The “pulper” reduced the weight of the load, which saved taxpayers money, said former employees of the CAO.
In Maryland, the composted material was turned into fertilizer and blended into soil over a period of 75 days. The soil was then returned to Capitol Hill where it was used as fertilizer in Capitol gardens. Hundreds of tons of refuse was diverted to the composting sites instead of a landfill each month, according to statistics from former CAO employees.
But Lungren said the “pulper” increased the House’s energy costs and the Maryland sites cost more than other closer sites that could be used for waste disposal.
The contract with the company used to haul the waste from the House to the composting facilities was set to expire this month, so Lungren asked the CAO and House inspector general to look into costs and benefits of the program.
The inspector general's study did not take into account that the House was just one of several stops that the hauling company made on its way back to the Maryland site, said a Democratic aide familiar with the report. If it had, the analysis of the chamber's energy reduction under the program would have been different.
The program was launched by former CAO Dan Beard, who quit last year after an unfavorable inspector general report found a low level of office morale and a high degree of anxiety among his employees.
With the Republicans' ascent to power in the House, many have wondered whether Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would discontinue some of his predecessor’s practices, such as the composting program.
Pelosi’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
-- This post was updated at 4:06 p.m.