Why is the EPA ending the Climate Leaders program?

Bruce Klafter

Bruce Klafter

In announcement that surprised me, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced this week that it plans to end its Climate Leaders program. As a partner in the program, I received a letter explaining the rationale for this move:

“EPA has determined that climate programs operated by the states and NGOs are now robust enough to service our Partners and other entities that wish to continue to advance their climate leadership through comprehensive reporting (that exceed mandatory reporting requirements) and/or the establishment of facility or corporate-level GHG reduction goals. For this reason, over the coming year, EPA will phase down services the Agency provides under the federal Climate Leaders program and encourage and assist the transition of our Partners into non-federal programs that our Partners choose to join.” (Click here to read the complete letter to the Partners)

I felt compelled to respond and sent the following note to Assistant EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, outlining my concerns.

Dear Assistant Administrator,

This is response to the email I just received announcing that EPA is winding down its Climate Leaders program.  I felt strongly enough about this action that I wanted to share my reaction immediately.  In my own opinion is EPA is making a mistake in closing down such an important and successful leadership program.

With the demise of Performance Track, many of us in the sustainability community thought other voluntary programs might well be endangered and now the other shoe has indeed dropped.  Climate Leaders has been a very valuable source of accounting expertise and the community of practice and sharing has been similarly of value to my company. We are members of many state, local and international leadership programs, but ones that carry the USEPA “stamp” are prestigious and recognizable and thus desirable.

While it is easy to argue that States and NGOs can offer the same sort of services, there is indeed unique value in national level leadership initiatives.  I did not find EPA’s logic in terminating Performance Track compelling and I am failing to see the logic with this action either.  I anticipate that many Climate Leader Partners share my dismay at this turn of events and I hope we can engage EPA in a dialogue on the subject.

Thanks for your consideration.

What do you think about the EPA’s decision? Can NGO’s fill the void occupied by a federal agency? What accountability is possible without government direction? I look forward to hearing from you.

About Bruce Klafter

Bruce Klafter is Vice President of Corporate Social & Environmental Responsibility at Flextronics International, where he provides leadership and strategic guidance for the company’s global operations. Prior to assuming this role, Mr. Klafter directed Applied Material’s EHS and sustainability programs and began his career as a distinguished environmental and natural resources lawyer.

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11 Comments
  1. William D'Alessandro

    September 16, 2010

    The Obama administration has made it crystal clear: We are here to regulate. The End. Close the curtain.

    I have reported repeatedly in Crosslands Bulletin: voluntary programs are not appreciated, have no credibility, and are worst than unwanted by the team brought in to the new administraiton.

    However, the termination of the Climate Leaders program is slightly different than the assaults on other programs under attack in EPA and OSHA.

    Given that Administrator Lisa Jackson and her crew at EPA favor and are in the process of implementing mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting and reductions, Climate Leaders is not simply unwanted, it is redudant. Superfluous.

    Jackson’s ill-conceived, cloakroom termination of Performance Track was strictly a policy choice, and, obviously, a mistake of lasting proportions.

  2. Bruce Klafter

    September 17, 2010

    Whatever EPA’s motivations are, Climate Leaders is by no means redundant of the Mandatory Reporting and Tailoring Rules. Many of the companies in CL, including my own, are not major emitters and are not subject to those rules. CL was lso making great strides in introducing climate leadership to small and medium size businesses, none of whom are covered by the rules, and now that benefit will be short-circuited.

  3. Rick Otis

    September 20, 2010

    It also reflects a business strategy of NGOs that this Administration appears to support – they don’t want EPA as a competitor. If EPA focuses on regulation and enforcement (and has few, if any, stewardship programs) then any company wanting to work collaboratively with another and a third party broker has no choice but to take their business to an NGO.

  4. Brian McGinley

    September 20, 2010

    This administration is so confused and lacks leadership at the highest level. Guidelines for emissions and fuel economy have worked albeit they don’t necessarily help the united states; for example….Japan gained its huge market share in the USA via small energy efficient cars and then transitioned to beating US car companies on quality. Currently the solar manufacturing market is dominated by China and many others are leading over the USA. A comprehensive energy policy, much lower corporate taxes and we’ll see growth in manufacturing in the USA from companies all over the world as well as a robust green energy business environ based on that comprehensive energy policy….not new taxes and regulations that are created ad hoc and damage the business environment by having no long term comprehensive policy where companies can plan for the future. CEOs all over this country need to speak up against the Obama admin and stop quivering in the corner begging for morsels of the unspent union directed stimulis to benefit their businesses. Be an Ottellini and tell the Bum and or Bums that they haven’t got a clue! Climate Leaders? How about leaders with a brain!

  5. Sean T

    September 28, 2010

    Like PTrack before it, and a host of other “voluntary” programs that have died on the vine, EPA is ending the funding of these programs because these programs were at best feel good programs and did not result in any measurable and attributable improvement in environmental quality, which is after all the mandate of the agency, is it not? the empirical evidence is in, voluntary programs dont work in the US.

    • Rick Otis

      October 12, 2010

      Quite the contrary, Sean T, the empirical evidence shows they do work. PTrack achieved real, measureable results that were made public. You can’t see them on EPA’s website because – contrary to it’s ‘open government’ claims – they removed the PTrack web pages so the inconvienent truth that the empirical data showed it was working would no longer be public. Check your facts and stop repeating someone else’s spin before you make such sweeping claims about EPA programs. You might, for example, read the EPA’s first strategic plan written under Administrator Browner (now White House energy & environement czar). It will give you a start on why these programs are an important part of EPA’s tools.

      • Sean T

        October 26, 2010

        I disagree. Otherwise, programs like PTrack would still be around. PTrack was a joke. Get permit flexibility for criteria air pollutants and in return, increase facility recycling rates? apples and pineapples there. what pray tell is the environmental quid pro quo for such an outrageous arrangement?

        Not repeating anyone else’s claims. the 2007 EPA IG report blasted the program for exaggerating its claims about actual and measured environmental outcomes. That assessment found that only two of 30 sample members it surveyed met all of their environmental commitments under the program. 2!

        yeah, that is a wildly successful program resulting in huge improvements in environmental quality. riiiight! or rather is it one more example of outrageous regulatory capture under the bushies spun as “voluntary compliance”

        i suggest you keep your own WSJ corporate spin to the boardroom. but thanks for playing

      • Rick Otis

        October 26, 2010

        Sean T. I repeat a sentence from my previous comment: “Check your facts and stop repeating someone else’s spin before you make such sweeping claims about EPA programs.” Your knowledge of how the PTrack program worked and the IG report seem embarrassingly limited. If you’d like to take about PTrack with some of the EPA staff who ran it, I can give you some contact information. You could also contact former EPA Administrator Carol Browner now in the Obama White House, she created it.

  6. DevilsAdvocate

    October 11, 2010

    Devil’s advocate here…. Based on how this reporting process got started in the EU back in the late 90s, maybe CL should have never existed in the first place? Across the pond, no such “assistance/ guidance” from member countries/ Brussels was made available as tools were offered through the GHG protocol and companies took time to fumble and learn while Kyoto’s mechanisms were progressively getting closer and closer to “home”…. In the US, there is confusion on tools; State driven initiatives; NGOs wanting a piece of the action, etc. etc. Time to simplify…. hopefully… and let the market find its way with actors playing their part (cacophony likely expected in these first years before the market settles down…as no Maestro on board!)

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