WASHINGTON -- Former Koch Industries executive George Wurtz owns WinCup, which supplies the styrofoam cups now littering the building following the House GOP's decision to phase out biodegradable cups from a Capitol lunchroom.
House Republicans announced in January that they would end a program to place compostable cups, containers and utensils in the House-side mini-cafeteria, a direct shot at former Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "Green the Capitol" initiative, which did away with styrofoam cups in 2007. Suspending the program resulted in business for Wurtz, a former executive of Koch Industries subsidiary Georgia-Pacific LLC.
GOP leaders did not handpick Wurtz's company, however -- that decision rested with Restaurant Associates, which manages the cafeteria.
"Decisions over what suppliers to use were done solely at the discretion of Restaurant Associates," Salley Wood, spokeswoman for the House Administration Committee.
House Republicans have defended the switch as a simple matter of economics, claiming the compostable program was too costly to continue. Wood said the compostable materials cost the House about $320,000 per year, plus $60,000 for hauling and at least $90,000 for labor.
Although she declined to give a figure for the cost of removing compostables, Wood said the committee was exploring other options to save costs and increase energy efficiency, including exploring whether waste can go to facilities that convert it to energy rather than into landfills.
As directed by the committee, the House will also test a reusable dishware pilot program in the Rayburn House Office Building later this month, Wood said.
At least one House Democrat was on board with ending the compostable program: then-Chairman of the House Administration Committee Robert Brady (D-Pa.) recommended discontinuing the compostables program in a December letter to the House GOP transition team.
But other Democrats are up in arms about the switch. Pelosi claimed in a tweet on Monday that the House GOP's decision would put 535 additional tons of waste in landfills, and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said the "cancer-causing cups" would endanger the health of staffers and workers in the capitol.
"To claim these cups are part of a cost-cutting measure is completely disingenuous," Honda said in a statement. "In fact, styrofoam cups will increase costs to our country due to health-related impacts, toxic cleanups, new landfill construction and increased reliance on energy-intensive, oil-based plastics. Our compostable cups did none of this."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel released a statement mocking Republicans for the minor money-saver. "In two months they haven't created a single job, but they have boldly brought Styrofoam cups back to the congressional cafeterias," the New York Democrat said. "At least the 700,000 Americans whose jobs the Republican budget eliminates can sleep better at night knowing that the Republicans have made the world safe for Styrofoam."
UPDATE, 7:15 p.m.: Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for Democrats on the Committee on House Administration, said Brady does not support the switch to styrofoam, even though he advised the compostable program should be discontinued.
"He feels, in the strongest possible terms, that there are lots of options available on the spectrum between composting and the environmentally disastrous use of styrofoam," Anderson told HuffPost. "Private industry has found a host of cost-effective alternatives to Styrofoam and it's difficult to believe that similar options were not feasible for application in the House."
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