NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 29, 2008

In November, the Democratic-led House of Representatives spent about $89,000 on so-called carbon offsets.  This purchase was supposed to cancel out greenhouse-gas emissions from House buildings -- including half of the U.S. Capitol -- by triggering an equal reduction in emissions elsewhere.

The House's purchase of carbon offsets provides insight into a newly popular commodity with few rules.  Analysts say some offsets really do cause new reductions in pollution.  But others seem to change very little, says the Washington Times.

A review of three projects that got about a third of the funds from the House's offset purchases shows that, in all three cases, it did not appear that offset money was the sole factor causing any of the projects to go forward.

  • About $14,500 of the House's money went to the North Dakota Farmers Union, some to pay farmers to do "no-till" farming.
  • The practice increases the amount of carbon, a component in heat-trapping carbon dioxide, kept in the soil.
  • But organizers said that some farmers had started the practice before the offset money came in because it saves fuel, brings in federal soil-conservation funds and could increase crop yields.

In addition:

  • Another $14,500 went to a project that enabled a power plant near Chillicothe, Iowa, to burn switch grass instead of coal.
  • This was a test program to learn more about making power from plant matter, and it reduced the facility's emissions for 45 days in spring 2006.
  • Officials conducted the test with the expectation that they would get offset money.


  • About $1,400 went to the Nez Perce Indian tribe to pay for tree plantings on tribal land in northern Idaho.
  • An official involved said the offset money was welcome in this case but was not the only factor that made the project worthwhile.

Source: David A. Fahrenthold, "Value of U.S. House's Carbon Offsets Is Murky," Washington Post, January 28, 2008.

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