A report released yesterday by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that the tangible results from two of the Administration’s voluntary programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are highly varied.
Both programs require better and tighter mechanisms for assessment, management, tracking and compliance to ensure that firms meet their emissions reduction goals, according to the report.
Originally requested by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and John Kerry (D-MA), the report evaluates EPA’s Climate Leaders Program and the DOE’s Climate VISION. The GAO—formerly the General Accounting Office— is an agency that works for Congress to study the programs and expenditures of the federal government.
As of November 2005, only 38 of the 74 firms in the EPA program had set reduction goals, while the DOE has no deadline for emissions reporting from trade groups.
In the EPA program, firms’ goals vary in terms of three characteristics: (1) the metric used (absolute emissions or emissions intensity), (2) the geographic scope of the goal (reductions at US or worldwide facilities), and (3) the time frame in which the reductions will occur.
For the DOE Climate VISION program, DOE or another federal agency conducted discussions with the industry groups on establishing their goals, and all participating groups had established a goal before joining Climate VISION. Participants’ goals varied in terms of the type of goal (emissions, emissions intensity, or energy efficiency) and the period covered by the goal (start and end dates.)
The administration has chosen to pursue voluntary rather than mandatory activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Given the potential gravity of the climate change problem, programs such as Climate Leaders and Climate VISION will need to be especially robust and involve a substantial portion of the economy if they are going to achieve the desired results.
To date, according to EPA and DOE estimates, these two voluntary programs involve companies and industries representing less than one-half of total US emissions, which immediately limits their potential impact. This makes it all the more important that the voluntary programs maximize the extent to which their potential is achieved.
[...] No matter how many firms and trade groups have joined the programs and how well they are meeting program expectations, to demonstrate the value of voluntary programs—as opposed to mandatory reductions—the agencies will need robust estimates of the programs’ effect on reducing emissions.
The GAO makes a number of specific recommendations and suggestions in the report, including:
DOE develop a system for tracking participants’ progress in completing key steps associated with its program.
EPA and DOE develop written policies establishing the consequences for not completing program steps on schedule
EPA and DOE find a way to determine the emissions reductions attributable to each program so that the same emissions reductions reported by organizations participating in Climate Leaders, Climate VISION, and other voluntary programs are not counted by more than one program.