Democratic leaders and environmental groups are lashing out at House Republicans this week over their decision to replace the cafeteria’s biodegradable utensils with — gasp — styrofoam. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), who made the call as chair of the House Administration Committee, says that the move will save $475,000 and that the program was inefficient by its own standards according to an audit by the Inspector General. But the whole flap really started with the crappy green-friendly cups, containers, and forks.
“The utensils it utilized were unusable,” Lungren told TPM. “I had complaints — bipartisan, Republican, Democrat, constituents, employees, members of Congress — all saying ‘Could you please give us implements at mealtime that actually work?’”
Lungren said that while he made the ultimate decision to kill the composting program based on its ineffectiveness, the investigation was launched initially out of this daily frustration.
“They talk about styrofoam cups — the cups we had before were so unusable that people would put two or three together if they had a cup of warm beverage,” he said. “How is that saving anything? You would have utensils that would melt or bend or couldn’t do what they were supposed to do. That’s just ridiculous.”
Lungren added that Democratic backers of the utensils demonstrated “the definition of ideological elitism — to say you know better how people ought to live their lives and will impose things on them even if they do not work.”
The composting program is part of a broader Green the Capitol initiative designed to reduce energy use in the House. An amendment attached to the Republicans’ Continuing Resolution funding the government through September, currently the basis of their negotiations with the Senate and White House this week, would zero out the program’s funding entirely. Lungren said that he would evaluate the initiative program by program and was open to keeping portions that worked.
In the meantime, he had a prescription for upset environmentalists: “They don’t have to use the styrofoam cups if they don’t want to.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.