Coal State Senators Compared to Tony Soprano in CNN ‘Green’ Segment

May 30th, 2007 11:36 AM

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have said she saw evidence of climate change in a recent trip to Greenland, but leave it to CNN to press her and other Democrats from the left for not doing enough to stop greenhouse gas emissions "in their own backyard." Both "American Morning" and "The Situation Room" on Tuesday featured CNN congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel's segment on how the heating and cooling power supplied to the U.S. Capitol building comes from the Capitol Power Plant, which is half-fueled by coal, and emits "tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases into the air." The blame for these emissions is placed on the politics of Senators Robert Byrd and Mitch McConnell, both of whom come from "two of the biggest coal-producing states."

Koppel interviewed two people for her segment, both of whom have left-wing affiliations. The first was Pelosi's chief administrative officer for the House, Dan Beard, who talked about the massive environmental advantage of switching to compact fluorescent bulbs. The second, Frank O'Donnell of the group Clean Air Watch, was given two sound bites in the segment. O'Donnell compared Senators Byrd and McConnell to a famous television mobster. "It's as if Tony Soprano had a seat in the Senate. They're saying this plant must stay alive. It must keep burning coal, even though it is causing pollution and global warming."

While O'Donnell's rant about Congress's carbon footprint went unchallenged, it is interesting to note that in his second sound bite, he focused his vehemence on Senator Byrd. "Speaker Pelosi can't override Senator Byrd. He has been around too long and he has got too much power."

The full transcript of the segment, as it ran on Tuesday's "American Morning."

JOHN ROBERTS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in Greenland over the weekend, getting a first-hand look at what she says is evidence that climate change is reality. Here at home, Speaker Pelosi is trying to get the U.S. Capitol to clean up its environmental act, but she's meeting resistance from the real source of power in Washington. Congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel is live on Capitol Hill to explain -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. You know, Democrats have promised that they were going to tackle global warming head on. Still, some say Pelosi and other Democrats are overlooking what's happening here, right in their own backyard.

KOPPEL: Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to turn the Capitol green, and she tapped this guy, Dan Beard, the Capitol's chief administrative officer, to make it happen.

DAN BEARD, HOUSE CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER: We have 17,000 lamps in the House of Representatives. If we replaced all the light bulbs, you know, with compact fluorescents. It's the equivalent of taking 250 cars off the road, you know, forever.

KOPPEL: A good first step? Maybe. But just down the street the equivalent to 5,700 cars sit idling day-after-day, pumping tens of thousands of greenhouse gases into the air. Built in 1910, the Capitol Power Plant is responsible for heating and cooling the Capitol, among other buildings. And if it were December instead of May, you'd see plumes of thick smoke. That's because about half the plant is still fuelled by coal, one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions. Why do they still burn coal?

BEARD: Seven letter word starting with P, Politics.

KOPPEL: Politics as in two of the most powerful lawmakers in the Senate from two of the biggest coal-producing state. Eight-term Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, now the Republican leader. Frank O'Donnell is with Clean Air Watch.

FRANK O'DONNELL, CLEAN AIR WATCH: It's as if Tony Soprano had a seat in the Senate. They're saying this plant must stay alive. It must keep burning coal even though it is causing pollution and global warming.

KOPPEL: According to the D.C. government, Capitol Power is the third-biggest polluter in the city. Still, burning coal Capitol Power and elsewhere is legal. So we asked Pelosi why, as she works to green the Capitol, it isn't a priority for her to stop it, at least in her own backyard.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER: There are issues involved with the power plant that we have to learn more about.

KOPPEL: O'Donnell says what Pelosi won't. It's all about special interests.

O'DONNELL: Speaker Pelosi can't override Senator Byrd. He has been around too long and he has got too much power.

KOPPEL: So does Senator McConnell. Back in 2000, the then-Architect of the Capitol recommended Congress eliminate coal from the power plant. But McConnell and Byrd body-blocked it, telling the Architect, in a matter of speaking, to get lost. The days of smoke-filled backroom politics may be over, but smokestack politics will likely be around for a while.

KOPPEL: That's not going to stop Dan Beard, who is the Capitol's chief administrative officer, from recommending in a final report he'll deliver to Pelosi in coming weeks, that they stop burning coal and switch entirely to natural gas. If they did that, John, they would cut back on 34,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions."

ROBERTS: But as you say, King Coal, a powerful lobby there on Capitol Hill. And now many members of Congress pushing for increased subsidies for the coal industry. Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill for us this morning. Thanks.