Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Greenhouse Gas Soft Sell

WASHINGTON, D.C. - When the Bush Administration unveiled its plan to address global climate change in February 2002, a key component was a program called "Climate Leaders." True to the administration's bottom-up approach to business regulation, Climate Leaders invited big manufacturers and others to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases--such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and others thought to contribute to global warming.

The tally so far: 48 companies have signed on as "Partners" in the Climate Leaders program. Twelve of those have agreed to set reduction goals for their greenhouse gas emissions. "We're pretty happy with those numbers," says Kathleen Hogan, director of the EPA's Climate Protection Partnerships division. But the program is just starting its climb up the mountain--Hogan says the goal, eventually, is to have hundreds of Climate Leaders participating.

To be sure, the list already includes some big hitters. General Motors pledged to reduce its greenhouse gases at North American plants by 10% by 2005, while Pfizer chose to reduce its emissions by 35% per revenue dollar from 2000 to 2007. Other notables that have set goals include Cinergy, IBM, and Johnson & Johnson.

Still, the overall tally of 48 participants suffers by comparison to other voluntary programs set up by the Bush Administration in recent years. As noted here a month ago, the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection's initiative has signed up 4,300 companies in just over two years for its supply chain security initiative.

Hogan brushes off the comparison. For one, she notes EPA's track record with its other voluntary programs. Energy Star, a program encouraging companies to label and promote energy efficiency products (air conditioners, office equipment and so on), has more than 7,000 partners after 11 years. Of course Energy Star is a marketing plus for companies making efficient appliances, since consumers can see from the label how much they'll save.

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