D.C. cuts back on carbon for Obama's inauguration

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON - For the inauguration of a president who promised to be a friend of the environment, what would you expect but carbon-neutral inaugural balls, hybrid Lexuses, organic menus and valet bicycle parking?

Political correctness will rule the day.

Two Green Inaugural Balls are planned, including one featuring a green carpet made from - what else? - recycled rug. Official invitations to the Jan. 20 inauguration are being printed on recycled paper. The homeless will be handed unsellable furs.

With millions of visitors headed to Washington for President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in, "our goal is to create an unforgettable evening while treading lightly on the Earth," said Jenna Mack, an organizer of one Green Inaugural Ball - not to be confused with another Green Inaugural Ball featuring Al Gore.

Correctness will not only be Earth-minded. Nearly every imaginable group is planning an event to promote a cause.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals plans to give away fur coats to the homeless while offering hot soy-milk cocoa in cups that read: "Thank You for Not Wearing Fur!"

"We expect that the only fur on the streets on Jan. 20 will be on homeless people," said Bruce Friedrich, PETA vice president.

The group collected furs from people who don't want them anymore, and the wraps will be marked with black paint before they are given away so that they cannot be sold.

Among other celebrations with cause: The peace ball, billed as "the largest gathering of peace activists without a protest."

The greening of the inauguration is drawing a special effort, because Obama has made "green" projects a centerpiece of his economic stimulus plan and is expected to highlight the environment in his inaugural address.

"Not only are we committed to holding an inauguration that is the most open and accessible in history," said Linda Douglass, chief spokeswoman for Obama's inaugural committee, "but we are also committed to making sure that it is as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible."

The Environmental Protection Agency has provided a liaison to the Presidential Inaugural Committee to advise on "best practices" - a first, Douglass says.

"We're obviously not going to have paper towels in the bathroom," said Shelley Cohen, helping organize the green ball featuring Gore, the former vice president who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for efforts in reducing climate change. "We're going to have air dryers."

"Making the inaugural balls as low-energy and low-carbon as possible won't stop global warming, but it is a very important symbol about the direction of the incoming administration," said Dan Weiss, director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

Attendees are being encouraged to carpool or ride public transit, even in evening gowns and tuxedos. If they must drive, they are being encouraged to drive a hybrid vehicle or purchase carbon offsets.

Organizers of a number of balls plan to use energy-efficient lighting. But no one yet has figured out a way to hook up to a wind turbine exhibit on display near the U.S. Capitol.

"Downtown D.C. is hardly an optimal place for a wind turbine," said Ron Stimmel of the American Wind Energy Association.

Some of the floats in the inaugural parade are being recycled from past parades, including a 60-foot-long, 24-foot-tall American flag float built for Ronald Reagan's 1985 inauguration.

Jimmy Carter made an attempt to be eco-friendly during his inauguration: The White House reviewing stand was supposed to be solar-heated. It did not work out as planned, says Albert Nason, archivist at the Jimmy Carter Library. Rosalynn Carter wrote: "Though it is supposedly a solar booth, something has happened to the sun this day and the booth's heater doesn't work."

"People have forgotten what a difference presidential leadership can make," Weiss suggests.

Not everyone's buying it, though.

"We've had the Christmas season, and it appears we're entering the silly season with efforts by many to look as if they're saving the environment when they're really not doing anything but engaging in feel-good politics," said Brian Darling, of the conservative Heritage Foundation. "In reality, this whole inaugural is going to have a massive carbon footprint."

Darling expects to see far more gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting sport utility vehicles than bikes as people head to inaugural balls.

"If they really want to be environmental, maybe they'll take measures to invite fewer people to Washington," he said, noting the huge carbon footprint that millions of people will leave.

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