Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, D-Pa., 59, is serving her second term as representative of Pennsylvania's 13th congressional district. Active on environmental issues, Schwartz is the prime sponsor of theAct (HR 3037), which requires that the federal government, as a whole, adopt the Environmental Protection Agency's standard of taking vendors' environmentally preferable features and practices into consideration when purchasing meeting and conference services. She took time recently to talk to us from her Capitol Hill office about the Green Meetings Act and other environmental issues.
CMI: Green meetings — is that an issue that resonates with your colleagues in the House?
Schwartz: ]There was certainly a very favorable response to [the Green Meetings Act] when I introduced it. Republicans didn't say they opposed it, and in a very partisan time, that's pretty positive! So I think Congress is interested in seeing other departments in the federal government proceed along the same lines as EPA.
CMI: In a relatively short time, you've developed a reputation in Congress as a doer when it comes to environmental issues. What's driving your interest?
Schwartz: It's really a dual concern. It's about the safety, security, and health of our planet, and it's an economic competitiveness issue in this country. We in the federal government need to be able to set an example for private business to demonstrate that energy efficiency and environmental consciousness are important to our economy and enhance our competitiveness.
CMI: Doesn't that demonstrate a change in the way people are thinking about the issue? Didn't there used to be a hesitancy to embrace environmental issues because it might be too much of a burden for business?
Schwartz: It is a shift in our thinking. I come from an old industrial, manufacturing state, where there's long been a strong feeling that if business is pushed to be more environmentally sensitive, there will be an adverse impact. But the opposite is true, and it's an argument I've been making for a long time. By being sensitive to the environment, by becoming more energy efficient, we can reduce costs and become more competitive. And then when you think about the opportunities involved with developing new technologies and products related to the environment and energy efficiency, that's another way for American business to compete. There's no reason the federal government can't be a leader on this issue.
CMI: Do you think the Green Meetings Act will have an impact that goes beyond the federal government?
Schwartz: I think there is an estimate out there that the government spends $14 billion a year on travel, which includes money spent on hotels and meeting space. There's no reason why that money shouldn't be spent in a way that encourages businesses to act in an environmentally responsible way by reducing energy consumption and their environmental footprints. The federal government can set an example, and certainly the Green Meetings Act is one way of helping to set that positive example for the private sector.
CMI: Can you talk about how you, as a congresswoman, try to practice what you preach when it comes to environmental issues?
Schwartz: We certainly try to promote good environmental practices in the office. Personally, I own a hybrid car and purchase energy-efficient appliances. And I'm lucky that my district is in Philadelphia, so I can travel back and forth to Washington by train.
CMI: How would you rate Congress as an institution when it comes to putting environmental practices into place on Capitol Hill?
Schwartz: Well, there has been a real effort to make our complex as energy efficient as possible. We do have an old building, which makes it difficult, but the leadership has tried hard to apply energy efficiency to everything we do.
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Maybe Next Session
The Green Meetings Act was inserted into the House of Representatives' energy bill last summer but was dropped from the energy legislation passed by the House December 6.
Rachel Magnuson, communications director for the act's primary sponsor, Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, D-Pa., said this: “It is important for individuals, businesses, and the federal government to all do their part to conserve our planet's resources, and Congresswoman Schwartz intends to keep pursuing various options to get the Green Meetings Act passed.”
For more on the Environmental Protection Agency's green meetings initiatives, upon which the Green Meetings Act was based, go to www.epa.gov/oppt/greenmeetings. The site includes ways for planners, suppliers, and attendees to green their meetings.
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