This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Campbell (R-CA) that would have eliminated a $1,000,000 earmark for the Housatonic River Net-Zero Energy Building project at the Housatonic River Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts from the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funds for energy and water development. An “earmark” is a project that benefits only a specific constituency or geographic area, which is inserted into a spending bill by an individual Member. legislatively mandated grant or project inserted at the request of an individual Member in a funding bill. Several Republican Members, including Campbell, had been trying to have a number of earmarks removed from funding bills.
Rep. Campbell noted in his remarks against the earmark that the museum for which it is intended “doesn't currently exist . . . they're still in the design and development phase of this building, and . . . would not even have construction completed until 2012. And of course, this is the appropriations funding for 2010, so this funding would be available for the museum 2 years before even their Web site indicates they might be completed.”
Rep. Olver, the Member responsible for having the earmark inserted, responded by noting that Congress created the Upper Housatonic National Heritage Area in 2006, and that the Housatonic River Museum was being created to focus on the cultural history of the area. Olver also noted that 90% “of the money for this project is being raised privately, but the money provided in this bill will allow the museum to maximize energy conservation and efficiency using passive strategies such as natural lighting, natural ventilation, water conservation, high-performance building materials, and, in addition, to generate enough power for its own needs, all from renewable sources utilizing photovoltaic panels, recycled wood pellet boilers and a geothermal well system. The museum will return excess power to the public electricity grid when available and possible. All of these techniques and processes for energy conservation and efficiency will be made available for explanation and demonstration to thousands of visitors of all ages, but especially to school-age children from near and far.” Olver also noted that the museum ‘will serve as a flagship demonstration project and an example of sustainable construction.
Olver acknowledged that the museum is not yet under construction, and Campbell raised the possibility that one million dollars could be going to a museum that never gets built. Campbell concluded his remarks in support of the amendment by asking, rhetorically, “should the taxpayers from California and Texas and Louisiana and every place else put their tax money towards subsidizing a privately funded museum in Massachusetts no matter how admirable the message that that museum may be?”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 121-303. One hundred and eighteen Republicans and three Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-nine Democrats and fifty-four Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the earmark for the Housatonic River Net-Zero Energy Building project at the Housatonic River Museum remained in the energy and water development funding bill.