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March 20, 2013

U.S. Congress Drives a Hard Bargain



We always suspected that our U.S. Senators and Representatives were wheeler-dealers—and now we know. As of this month, members of Congress who drive to work in hybrid or electric vehicles are paying a price for the privilege of parking near an electric outlet where their cars can recharge. However, colleagues who steer clear of environmentally friendly autos in favor of gas guzzlers are continuing to park for free.

It wasn’t supposed to work out in quite this way. Last August—when Congress approved legislation that would allow the Architect of the Capitol to construct battery-recharging stations for electric cars in Congressional parking areas—the bill was meant to encourage next-generation vehicle technology and U.S. energy independence.

Indeed, the original sponsor of the measure, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) intended to support his constituents in Detroit, where automakers have been making America’s most popular electric car vehicles, including Chevrolet's Volt and Ford's Focus. 

 “These cars are helping re-energize the domestic auto industry, helping our local economies in Michigan and throughout our nation,” Kildee said as he introduced the bill. “I am committed to the strength of the domestic auto industry, and electric cars are a critical part of the future of American auto manufacturing.”

However, the legislation required that construction be at no net cost to the government—and thus, the fee system was born (and will be borne only by our most eco-friendly politicians).

According to Eva Maleck, communications officer for the Architect of the Capitol, who spoke to Green Technology World about the new program, “Per Public Law 112-167, in November 2012, the Architect of the Capitol established electric vehicle charging stations in several parking areas in the U.S. Senate. Program participants have the option of paying a monthly subscription rate or a daily usage rate. The parking spaces for the electric vehicle charging stations are not designated for electric vehicles only, and are available on a first come, first serve basis. The House program was launched on March 7, 2013. It was established in the same manner as the Senate program.”

The cost of the House program, ascertained this week by CQ Roll Call, will be $27 a month, or a daily fee of $8. The Senate fee is expected to be equivalent.

House Office Buildings Superintendent William M. Weidemeyer said he chose to stay with bare-bones electrical outlets rather than installing state-of-the-art charging stations, because it was the cheaper option. “Our plan was chosen to minimize parking assignment logistics, initial capital construction cost, and ensure program implementation results in no cost to the taxpayer,” he commented.

And in fact, the bill might not have passed with without the user fee. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) held back his approval for nearly a month, saying it was an “expensive perk” that only legislators and their staffs would receive.

So what does this say about America’s priorities? Are we spending too much time worrying about cold cash and not enough on global warming?




Edited by Brooke Neuman

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