Roads to ’08 leav­ing foot­print: Dems tout car­bon off­sets

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

For­mer Sen. John Ed­wards’ 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has paid nearly $22,000 to off­set its glob­al­warm­ing emis­sions this year, in­clud­ing more than $5,000 a month from April through June, mak­ing him the can­di­date with the largest ac­knowl­edged out­put of green­house gases.

Mean­while, Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s cam­paign spent $2,367 to off­set its emis­sions for April alone, while Sen. Christo­pher J. Dodd paid $650 for his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign’s emis­sions from April through June.

To­gether, they are the three cam­paign pi­o­neers in the new world of car­bon neu­tral­ity: the idea of “off­set­ting” their green­house-gas emis­sions by pay­ing a third-party com­pany to plant trees, build clean-en­ergy projects or take other steps that will lead to less car­bon diox­ide be­ing emit­ted.

Pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, it turns out, are a dirty busi­ness, en­vi­ron­men­tally speak­ing — and for the first time, the cam­paigns’ Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports are pro­vid­ing a glimpse of just how dirty they are when it comes to green­house-gas emis­sions.

In short, Mr. Ed­wards’ ac­knowl­edged “car­bon foot­print” is at least dou­ble the size of Mrs. Clin­ton’s, and the com­par­i­son prompts the ques­tion of whether he is dirt­ier, or whether she is less dili­gent in fig­ur­ing out what her cam­paign is emit­ting.

At $12 a ton — the rate she pays to Na­tive En­ergy, her cho­sen off­sets provider — Mrs. Clin­ton’s pay­ment amounts to al­most 200 met­ric tons of car­bon-diox­ide emis­sions for April alone.

Mr. Ed­wards, who also uses Na­tive En­ergy, emit­ted nearly 450 tons a month in April, May and June, judg­ing by his own $16,146 pay­ment his cam­paign says he made on July 11. He had made an ear­lier $5,850 pay­ment on March 30.

By com­par­i­son, the av­er­age Amer­i­can’s emis­sions for an en­tire year runs about 20 met­ric tons, while the av­er­age Euro­pean’s emis­sions comes to about 10 tons.

All three Democrats have touted their ef­forts on the cam­paign trail.

Mr. Ed­wards went first, an­nounc­ing in March that at the time “we’re the only cam­paign in ei­ther party to make the car­bon-neu­tral pledge.” Mrs. Clin­ton fol­lowed the next month, tim­ing her pledge to co­in­cide with Earth Day.

But it’s tougher to eval­u­ate how well they are liv­ing up to their pledges. Cam­paign-fi­nance re­ports give only a snap­shot of the cam­paigns’ ef­forts, and the pic­ture is clouded by the tra­di­tional se­crecy that sur­rounds cam­paigns.

While Mr. Dodd’s cam­paign pro- vided a near-com­plete break­down of his car­bon emis­sions for one month, nei­ther Mrs. Clin­ton nor Mr. Ed­wards would give de­tails of what they cover or what they emit.

Those who track the is­sue say dis­clo­sure is the key to judg­ing who is liv­ing up to the pledge.

“When some­one is run­ning for of­fice, I think vot­ers ap­pre­ci­ate trans­parency, and I think vot­ers ap­pre­ci­ate ac­tions more than words,” said Ju­lia Bovey, a spokes­woman for the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil (NRDC) Ac­tion Fund. “I would hope that any can­di­date who claims a com­mit­ment to cut­ting back on global-warm­ing pol­lu­tion is also open to talk­ing about what they’re do­ing.”

The NRDC Ac­tion Fund, the po­lit­i­cal arm of the non­profit en­vi­ron­men­tal group, is­sued a chal­lenge in Fe­bru­ary to all of the can­di­dates, ask­ing them to run car­bon-neu­tral cam­paigns.

The fund promised to help any can­di­date who ac­cepted the chal­lenge by of­fer­ing ex­per­tise on re­vamp­ing their en­ergy use, but so far none has taken the fund up on its of­fer.

“Any of the big en­vi­ron­men­tal non­prof­its would be more than happy to serve an ad­vi­sory role on this is­sue of how to cre­ate less pol­lu­tion,” Ms. Bovey said. “That of­fer still stands, and that would also help give some trans­parency to this process.”

With­out the cam­paigns pro­vid­ing fig­ures, it’s dif­fi­cult to mea­sure their ef­forts. Some cam­paigns are far larger than oth­ers, some travel more than oth­ers, and travel makes up the largest chunk of emis­sions.

One in­de­pen­dent yard­stick could be Pres­i­dent Bush’s trav­els on Air Force One, which a Web site, he­li­um­re­port.com, es­ti­mated could be off­set for $200,000 a year. Mr. Bush takes fewer trips than can­di­dates, but flies a much big­ger air­craft.

For an­other mea­sure, a busi­nesstravel ser­vices or­ga­ni­za­tion has es­ti­mated large busi­nesses should ex­pect off­sets for air travel to run be­tween 1 per­cent and 2 per­cent of a ticket’s price. With travel costs run­ning half a mil­lion dol­lars or more per quar­ter, that means the big cam­paigns should ex­pect to spend as much as $50,000 a year to off­set flights alone.

Mr. Dodd’s cam­paign re­leased the most de­tails, giv­ing a near-com­plete pic­ture of ac­tual emis­sions for May: 1.85 met­ric tons for ho­tels and car rentals; 6.24 tons for com­mer­cial air­plane flights; 0.4 met­ric tons for two hy­brid cars; and 3.78 met­ric tons for of­fice space. The cam­paign said it paid for, but didn’t have avail­able, the ex­act amount of emis­sions for com­puter use.

Mr. Dodd’s spokesman, Hari Se­vu­gan, said their ac­tual bill for May came to $67.50, but they paid $200 to cover just-in-case costs.

“If peo­ple are do­ing stuff for the cam­paign from home, for ex­am­ple, this would help cover that,” he said.

The cam­paign uses Car­bon Fund, which charged $5 per met­ric ton to off­set emis­sions, or $7 less than charged by Na­tive En­ergy, the com­pany cho­sen by Mrs. Clin­ton and Mr. Ed­wards.

Mr. Dodd also spent $67,642 on char­ter flights with Air Char­ter Team Inc., which in­cludes car­bon off­sets in its prices.

Steve Dav­i­son, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing for Air Char­ter Team, said it cal­cu­lates emis­sions by gal­lons of fuel used per flight, and plugs that into a for­mula based on the type of air­craft used to come up with an emis­sions to­tal for each flight.

No Repub­li­can can­di­date has pledged to achieve car­bon neu­tral­ity — not even Sen. John McCain, the Ari­zona Repub­li­can who has spon­sored al­most ev­ery ma­jor piece of global-warm­ing leg­is­la­tion over the past few years.

Brooke Buchanan, a cam­paign spokes­woman, said they have asked for a com­pany to study the cam­paign’s car­bon foot­print and come up with off­sets, but she was un­able to pro­vide the name of the com­pany, when the study was con­tracted or when it will be done.

“We started it ear­lier this year, and we’re just wait­ing to hear back from them soon,” she said. “They’re right in the mid­dle of it, so we look for­ward to hear­ing the out­comes of this study.”

Mr. McCain’s spend­ing records don’t record a pay­ment to any of the ma­jor off­sets com­pa­nies.

His spokes­woman said the cam­paign has bought en­ergy-ef­fi­cient com­put­ers and lights and has asked the land­lord at the build­ing that houses its head­quar­ters to turn off the air con­di­tion­ing when the of­fice isn’t in use.

Colleen Murray, Mr. Ed­wards’ spokes­woman, said the Ed­wards cam­paign also con­trols and con­serves en­ergy from lights, heat­ing and com­put­ers, and “have thou­sands of lo­cal vol­un­teers work­ing to­gether on com­mu­nity-ser­vice ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing weath­er­iz­ing homes and dis­tribut­ing en­ergy-ef­fi­cient com­pact flu­o­res­cent bulbs across the coun­try.”

“Our cam­paign takes off­set­ting our car­bon foot­print very se­ri­ously. That is why we have taken many vol­un­tary steps to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing pur­chas­ing car­bon off­sets for the travel of Sen­a­tor and El­iz­a­beth Ed­wards and all staff mem­bers that travel with them, and for en­ergy used in our head­quar­ters and all field of­fices,” she said.

Bill Con­nelly, a spokesman for Na­tive En­ergy, said that when they are con­tacted, they take a look at how clients can re­duce what they use and help them track the rest to cal­cu­late off­sets.

“We do an in­ven­tory of emis­sions. We take a look at all of their car­bon­diox­ide im­pact,” he said. “The pri­mary source of emis­sions is typ­i­cally travel, usu­ally air travel, and then we look at all of the other ways they use en­ergy.”

He said he could not dis­cuss par­tic­u­lar clients’ en­ergy use or off­sets with­out their per­mis­sion, which he said he did not have.

Sen. Barack Obama, the can­di­date run­ning clos­est to Mrs. Clin­ton in the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial-nom­i­na­tion race, does not pay for off­sets, but he does use Air Char­ter Team, the same com­pany Mr. Dodd uses, which off­sets emis­sions through Car­bon Fund. Mr. Obama’s cam­paign listed $702,802 paid to Air Char­ter in the last pe­riod.

His cam­paign did not re­spond to calls for com­ment on his car­bon foot­print.

Some crit­ics said the re­spon­si­bil­ity goes deeper than just pay­ing a com­pany to off­set en­ergy us­age.

“The ques­tion is not how much they’ve paid, nor in­deed the amount of car­bon diox­ide they’ve emit­ted, but what they’re ac­tu­ally do­ing about it — what the off­sets mean,” said Iain Murray, se­nior fel­low at the Com­pet­i­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. “You have to ask — if you be­lieve that off­sets are ac­tu­ally do­ing some good, then what is it those off­sets are pay­ing for?”

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