Friday, January 02, 2004

Corporate America: Volunteer To Save The Environment? Who Me?

When it comes to cleaning up the environment or making workplaces safer, the philosphy of the current administration is that cooperative agreements and voluntarism work far better than the heavy hand of laws, regulations, mandatory controls, enforcement and penalties. Just sell people on the benefits of a voluntary program and they'll happily come running to jump on the bandwagon. Because everyone wants a clean environment and safety workplaces. Don't they?

That's what they would have had us believe.
Bush promoted his voluntary initiatives after he abandoned a campaign pledge to impose mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and then formally disavowed the 1997 accord negotiated by the United States and 158 other countries in Kyoto, Japan, which would impose mandatory caps on greenhouse emissions in developed countries. The Bush administration argued that mandatory controls would hinder economic growth.
Well things don't seem to be working out so well for the Bush administration in the area of global warming, according to the Washington Post.
Two years after President Bush declared he could combat global warming without mandatory controls, the administration has launched a broad array of initiatives and research, yet it has had little success in recruiting companies to voluntarily curb their greenhouse gas emissions, according to official documents, reports and interviews.

At the heart of the president's strategy is "Climate Leaders," a program that recruits the nation's industrial polluters to voluntarily devise ways to curb their emissions by 10 percent or more in the coming decade. Scientists believe these greenhouse gas emissions, which include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are contributing to a troubling rise in the earth's temperature that could disrupt weather patterns and cause flooding.

Only a tiny fraction of the thousands of U.S. companies with pollution problems -- 50 in all -- have joined Climate Leaders, and of the companies that have signed up, only 14 have set goals. Many of the companies that are volunteering say they did so either because reducing emissions makes good economic sense or because they were being nudged by state and federal regulators.

Industry groups, meanwhile, have crafted their own programs under a Bush administration initiative called "Climate VISION," but none of the programs requires individual companies to either enlist in the program or set goals for emission reductions.

Many of the companies with the worst pollution records have shunned the voluntary programs because even a voluntary commitment would necessitate costly cleanups or possibly could set the stage for future government regulation, according to industry insiders.
Many of the companies signing up for the Bush voluntary initiative are are the "perennial 'good citizens' who were participating in "green" programs years before Bush called for volunteers. "
But the administration has made no headway signing up big utility companies with the worst emissions records. Many of those companies vigorously opposed mandatory controls. Now they are refusing to take part in voluntary measures that set targets, largely for fear that those programs eventually will lead to government regulation.

"Some just see it as a slippery slope," said a lobbyist for several major utilities.
Well, anyway, it works great for generating campaign contributions.