EPA Derails Performance Track Program

EPA Derails Performance Track Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suspended its National Environmental Performance Track program Monday while it reviews it and other environmental leadership programs.

Begun in 2000, the voluntary program is currently affiliated with more than 500 facilities, 200 companies and 22 states. Since its inception, members have reduced water consumption by 3.66 billion gallons, non-hazardous waste by 1.21 million tons and avoided more than 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, EPA said.

But a 2007 report (PDF) issued by the EPA Inspector General casts doubt on the accomplishments of the program. Its analysis found only two of 30 sample members it surveyed met all of their environmental commitments under the program. The program lacked performance standards to measure progress and didn't offer a strategic plan to connect activities to its goals, according to the report.

The Inspector General also raised concerns with other voluntary EPA programs, including those aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions (PDF), which it said are hindered by "limited potential" and unverifiable data that threatens the veracity of reported accomplishments. In a separate report, the Inspector General found (PDF) the EPA had no idea which of its voluntary programs were succeeding or failing because it lacked agency-wide policies on data collection or internal controls to measure progress.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, the first to report the program's demise over the weekend, published an investigation in late 2008 exploring the weaknesses of a program lauded by the Bush Administration for its voluntary approach. The newspaper discovered the program didn't verify environmental performance and includes members with spotty or dismal environmental records, including companies that have actually increased toxic emissions.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a memo (PDF) Monday stakeholders and members of Congress asked her to halt and evaluate the program. It will complete two major reviews of Performance Track and environmental leadership programs in general.