GAO Report Faults Voluntary Programs To Cut Air Pollution
Study Says Administration Has Not Ensured That Firms Set, Meet Goals

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 26, 2006

The Bush administration's voluntary programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by industry have yet to deliver promised results, according to a report issued yesterday by the Government Accountability Office.

The 51-page report, which was requested by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), highlights shortcomings in two projects aimed at encouraging the private sector to cut emissions linked to global warming. The Environmental Protection Agency sponsors "Climate Leaders," while the Energy Department oversees "Climate VISION."

Both encourage polluters to cut their greenhouse-gas releases, but in each case, according to the study, the administration has failed to ensure that participating firms set firm reduction targets or meet their stated goals.

"EPA and DOE each expect participants in their voluntary emissions reduction programs to complete a number of actions; however, participants' progress toward completing those actions, as well as the agencies' efforts to track accomplishments, has varied," the report said.

The United States, unlike most developed countries, has repeatedly resisted mandatory curbs on carbon dioxide and other gases linked to climate change, instead relying on voluntary programs.

This week, Bush's senior environmental adviser, James L. Connaughton, told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, that the country does not have to regulate such pollutants because it is on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent relative to the gross domestic product by 2012.

"Why do you need a mandate to deliver an outcome you're already going to get?" he asked.

The GAO report, however, indicated that many firms in the voluntary reduction programs have not established specific targets. As of November 2005, only 38 of the 74 firms in the EPA program had set reduction goals, according to the report. In the Energy Department program, 11 of the 15 participating trade groups have established targets, and five have reported on their emissions. The DOE has no deadline for emissions reporting.

"This report makes clear that letting the fox guard the henhouse is not working," Kerry said in a statement. "It's unbelievable enough that President Bush refuses to accept the very clear scientific evidence on greenhouse gas emissions, but now he can't even get his own non-action plan right."

EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood responded in a statement that, to date, half of the 87 organizations that joined its Climate Leaders program have completed inventories of their emissions "and have set aggressive public reduction commitments." The agency "continuously tracks the progress" of the participants, she said.

DOE spokeswoman Megan Barnett said the department is taking steps to better track cuts in emissions under its program.

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