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Why is Wal-Mart lobbying against carbon-offset guidelines?

Why is the mega-retailer so afraid of having offsets defined?

(Page 2 of 3)

The FTC also wants to clarify the concept of renewable-energy certificates, or RECs, tradeable credits that represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour of electricity was generated by renewable energy.

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Currently, the carbon offset and REC markets are largely unregulated. Potential buyers face an assortment of for-profit and nonprofit companies, independent certifying agencies, projects, and prices. And, as the Guardian pointed out last year, sometimes the money spent on an offset doesn't even make it to the project.

Wal-Mart occasionally partners with companies that attempt to offset their emissions, such as Dell computers or a fair-trade coffee producer.

So when the FTC solicited comments on its process of defining carbon offsets and RECs, Wal-Mart wrote in, saying that the company would prefer keeping things casual for now [PDF].

There are currently four proposed U. S. regional greenhouse gas cap-and-trade programs, approximately thirty mandatory U.S. State renewable portfolio standards, and voluntary REC and carbon offset markets, all with varying, and sometimes conflicting, requirements. As a result, standards for what constitutes an offset or a REC are not necessarily consistent from one provider to another. In addition, these current programs could all change or be eliminated with the enactment of federal legislation, or they could continue in forms that supplement any forthcoming federal programs. Although some may urge otherwise, the Commission should resist the temptation to define what constitutes an eligible offset or REC. Doing so would require the Commission to resolve highly technical environmental debates that are beyond its expertise.
Rather than attempting to define offsets or RECs, the Commission should rely on the flexibility inherent in the "reasonable basis doctrine." The fact that standards may differ from one seller to another simply reflects the fact that there is no consensus about what does, or should, constitute a carbon offset. Different authoritative and expert institutions have adopted different, but reasonable, approaches. Although the Commission should insist that all carbon offset claims are supported by a reasonable basis, FTC precedent provides no reason to choose one reasonable approach over another.

See the circular logic here? Wal-Mart is arguing that we should not seek to come up with a firm definition of RECs and offsets because there doesn't yet exist a firm definition of RECs and offsets. But it's this very ambiguity that prompted the FTC to seek clarity on the subject in the first place.

Wal-Mart Watch is having none of it. The union-backed advocacy group is calling the company on what it sees as its fear of comittment.

Wal-Mart’s attempt to keep offsets guidelines vague shows the company is more interested in marketing potential than actual environmental change. Unspecific standards would allow the retailer to ‘commit’ to carbon-neutrality, without providing much real documentation. A responsible, sustainable corporation would place the necessity of carbon-offset clarification and oversight in front of the bottom-line.

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