WASHINGTON – The Obama administration intends to close an EPA program heavily promoted by the Bush administration that rewards voluntary pollution controls by hundreds of corporations with reduced environmental inspections and less stringent regulation, according to EPA sources and internal e-mails.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson is expected to sign a memo terminating the Performance Track program, possibly as early as this week, senior EPA officials said Saturday.
Performance Track offers regulatory perks to corporations that pledge to save energy and reduce pollution. Entry into Performance Track, EPA’s premier voluntary “Green Club,” is supposed to be reserved for companies with sterling environmental records, but it has been denounced by environmentalists as a public relations charade.
EPA’s decision to close Performance Track comes three months after a Phildelphia Inquirer investigation found the program lauded companies with suspect environmental records, spent millions on recruiting and publicity and failed to independently confirm members’ environmental pledges.
EPA Press Secretary Adora Andy said a final decision to close Performance Track has not been made. But two other people involved said Jackson’s signature is a mere formality and related meetings, including notification to companies and the 19 states participating in the program, could come as early as this week.
Late last week, Chuck Kent, an EPA supervisor in Washington, sent an e-mail to colleagues at the agency’s regional headquarters about the program’s termination Thursday, according to a copy obtained by the Inquirer.
“Administrator Jackson has decided to halt the Performance Track program,” Kent wrote.
Late last year, EPA officials said, the Performance Track program employed 18 employees – plus consultants. The employees are all career civil servants, and when the program is closed, they will be transferred to other EPA jobs, an official said.
Performance Track was created in 2000, during the waning days of the Clinton administration. The Bush administration became an immediate champion after it caught the attention of a former American Plastics Council lobbyist who managed the administration’s EPA transition team in 2001.
The Bush administration promoted Performance Track as a bold new approach that moved the EPA beyond its traditional role as enforcer of environmental laws, encouraging a philosophy in which EPA collaborated with industry to encourage cutting-edge environmentally sensitive practices.
Companies admitted to Performance Track pledge to promote “environmental stewardship” to local communities and must choose four environmental goals, such as energy or waste reduction.