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Ungreen the Capitol? Styrofoam returns

From NBC's Shawna Thomas
Capitol Hill's staffers, journalists and members of Congress were greeted by a retro sight on Monday morning.

Styrofoam. 

When Democrats held the majority, the various cafeterias throughout the Capitol complex served their wares in compostable food containers as a part of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi's initiative to "Green the Capitol."

But the GOP's reorganization of the House means that the more environmentally-friendly containers and utensils – which were biodegradable but flimsy - have been replaced with cheaper plastic and Styrofoam versions.

 "Styrofoam and Libya," one Hill staffer was overheard saying. "Are we back in the 80's?"

The change is part of the winding down of the "Green the Capitol" program, which - for now - still has a website that proudly boasts about the ecofriendly takeout boxes and cups as a major accomplishment.

But Republicans argue that the initiative did very little for the Capitol environment and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"According to information provided by the House IG and the CAO, the composting program has increased the House's overall operating costs by an estimated $475,000 annually,” said House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif. “The program has also increased the House's energy consumption through the use of additional electricity for the pulping process and the increased hauling distance to the composting facility."

Pelosi took to the Twitterverse Monday night to express her disappointment in Styrofoam’s return. "#SoBeIt GOP brings back Styrofoam & ends composting--House will send 535 more tons to landfills #TalkAboutGovtWaste,” she wrote.  

During the recent debate over federal spending levels, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., proposed an amendment requiring that lawmakers defund the full “Green the Capitol” program this year instead of waiting until the new fiscal year. 

In a statement on the House floor Whitfield said, "This amendment basically simply removes $1.5 million from the greening of the Capitol project. There was a total of about $7 million in this project. The project is basically over with, and there is approximately $1.5 million left. If we go on and eliminate the program now, that $1.5 million can be put directly to reducing the debt."  

It passed by voice vote in the middle of the night. 

Msnbc.com's Carrie Dann contributed.