Washington, DC — A major tool touted by the Bush administration to reduce greenhouse gases does not work as advertized, according to a new audit by the Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The IG audit is just the latest report finding that voluntary, market-based programs relied upon by the current administration and several states have poor track records and do not produce reliable results, says Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The December 17, 2008 IG report on ENERGY STAR, a voluntary labeling program that is supposed to promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, concluded that many of the alleged benefits could not be verified. In 2006, for example, the program accounted for more than half of EPA’s claimed contributions to greenhouse gas reductions but the IG debunked those claims:
“We found the ENERGY STAR program's reported savings claims were inaccurate and the reported annual savings unreliable….Deficiencies included the lack of a quality review of the data collected; reliance on estimates, forecasting, and unverified third party reporting; and the potential inclusion of exported items.”
ENERGY STAR is the centerpiece of a voluntary, market-based approach for cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions employed by the Bush administration. An earlier IG audit from July 2008 found that all of these efforts have, at best, marginal impact, concluding: “…we determined that if EPA wishes to reduce GHG beyond this point, it needs to consider additional [regulatory] policy options.”
“These reports underline how hard it is to re-orient a massive economy away from dependence on carbon fuels,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The danger for the Obama administration is that it, too, will embrace ineffectual market-based approaches as the least politically painful path.”
One central issues both the Bush administration and several Democratically-controlled states, notably New Jersey, are trying mightily to avoid is direct regulation of greenhouse gases, instead using market-based incentive programs. Significantly, ENERGY STAR is featured prominently in the long-awaited New Jersey global warming plan produced under Lisa Jackson, the former state environmental commissioner and new EPA Administrator-designate.
“The approach put forward by New Jersey earlier this month appears to repeat the same mistakes as those made by the Bush administration – heavy on aspiration but short on implementation,” Ruch added. “It is one thing to set a goal but quite another to lay out a concrete plan that gets the job done.”