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Today Show Features GOP vs Dem Fight Over Styrofoam Cups in Capitol Cafeteria

As part of Green is Universal week, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell highlighted a fight between Republicans and Democrats over the use of Styrofoam in the House cafeterias. On Thursday's Today show, O'Donnell reported, "Many Democrats are boiling mad because Republicans, now in charge of building operations, put a fork in the bio-degradable utensils Democrats had picked."

O'Donnell went on to relay the concerns of Democratic Congressman George Miller as she noted that he had alarmingly tweeted to Republicans, "Stop serving carcinogens to constituents," and then aired a soundbite of Miller (while he was brandishing a Styrofoam cup) hyperbolically exclaiming: "This cup is a very expensive cup. It's very expensive to the environment, it's very expensive to our energy policy and it's very expensive, in some cases, to the health of individuals. "

However O'Donnell did present the GOP side of the story as she reported that the House composting program, first implemented by a then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was costing the taxpayers "a half million dollars a year" and added: "Many diners complained those compostable cups, forks, and spoons broke easily and even melted in hot soup or coffee."

O'Donnell also allowed GOP Congressman Dan Lungren to tell viewers that it wasn't just Republicans who were upset with the flimsy forks:

REP. DAN LUNGREN, HOUSE ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE, CHAIR: They were bipartisan complaints. I've had more thanks from Democrats, who whisper it to me, and Republicans, staffers and members thanking me for actually giving them utensils that will work.


The following is the full story as it was aired on the April 21 Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Back now at 7:49am with a heated debate on Capitol Hill, not over the deficit or even the bombing in Libya. This fight hits closer to home for members of Congress. It's about their coffee cups. NBC's Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell explains.

[On screen headline: "It Ain't Easy Being Green, Congress Battles Over Cups On Capitol Hill"]

KELLY O'DONNELL: Stacked and barely noticeable but those cups runneth over with controversy.

REP. GEORGE MILLER: Not a lot of people come to Washington chanting, "I want a Styrofoam cup."

O'DONNELL: Styrofoam and plastic wear are back in cafeterias at the House of Representatives.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's probably going to be in a landfill for the rest my life and, you know, it just seems to be a waste.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I like Styrofoam. It doesn't really matter what my drink comes in.

O'DONNELL: Many Democrats are boiling mad because Republicans, now in charge of building operations, put a fork in the bio-degradable utensils Democrats had picked.

MILLER: Vote for the Republicans, Vote for Styrofoam.

O'DONNELL: When Nancy Pelosi was Speaker she proudly launched a greening of the Capitol campaign.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: The House has reduced its carbon emissions by 72 percent, a remarkable achievement for the Congress.

O'DONNELL: But it ain't easy being green. The House composting program cost nearly a half million dollars a year. Many diners complained those compostable cups, forks, and spoons broke easily and even melted in hot soup or coffee.

(Clip of someone breaking a fork while trying to cut food.)

REP. DAN LUNGREN, HOUSE ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE, CHAIR: They were bipartisan complaints. I've had more thanks from Democrats, who whisper it to me, and Republicans, staffers and members thanking me for actually giving them utensils that will work.

O'DONNELL: Outraged Democrats used Twitter and Facebook, asking constituents to urge Republicans to bring back the paper cups. More than 100 Democrats signed a letter to Speaker Boehner. Congressman George Miller tweeted "Stop serving carcinogens to constituents," saying chemicals in Styrofoam pose a health risk.

MILLER: This cup is a very expensive cup. It's very expensive to the environment, it's very expensive to our energy policy and it's very expensive, in some cases, to the health of individuals.

LUNGREN: Well if anything were proven to be a cancer risk we wouldn't have it around here.

O'DONNELL: Republicans say, "Wait! It was the Democrats, who previously ran House operations, who actually recommended cancelling the House composting program." In this letter saying, "It was not a "sustainable or cost efficient enterprise for the House." Republicans say those cheaper Styrofoam cups may only be temporary. They are going to test bringing in permanent utensils that can be washed and reused, calling that, environmentally friendly. For Today, Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News, the Capitol.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here