Program will award air quality credits for telecommuting

The Associated Press
Wednesday August 22, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Businesses were offered a powerful incentive Tuesday to allow workers to telecommute – pollution credits that can be used to reduce taxes or sold to other companies for cash. 

U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta told more than 100 business and government representatives that the pilot program is designed to reduce traffic and auto emissions by encouraging workers to “e-commute.” 

But just as important, it includes strong economic rewards for doing so. 

“E-commuting is a tool that can help make your employees more productive workers,” Mineta said during an appearance in downtown Los Angeles. “It could be the best thing you do for your bottom line this year.” 

Los Angeles is one of five cities chosen for the pilot project. The cities, which include Houston, Denver, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., were chosen because of their poor air quality. 

The program is being administered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It rewards companies that allow employees to work from home, which presumably reduces the number of cars on the road as well as their emissions. 

Air quality credits will be issued based on an Internet-based survey that companies submit for each employee. The credits can be used to offset fines for pollution caused by such activities as operating a power plant or refinery. 

The program also establishes an exchange where companies that have no use for the credits can sell them. 

The city of Anaheim is interested in the program for its 5,000 workers in part so its municipal utility can use the credits to offset emissions from future power plants. 

“We have an ongoing rideshare program and would see this as very complementary to that,” said John Lower, traffic and transportation manager for the city of Anaheim. “As part of our rideshare annual survey, we’re going to ask our employees if their typical work would be conducive to working at home. I could do some of my work, at least half a day or one day every couple of weeks at home.” 

The state requires power plants to offset 100 percent of the expected emissions, either by installing special equipment or acquiring air quality credits. Often companies sell excess credits to others who need them. The e-commuting program is the first time credits generated from mobile sources are being allowed to offset emissions from stationary sources, according to the National Environmental Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization helping coordinate the program. 

It will be months before local officials determine if there is sufficient interest in the program and design a system to award and exchange the credits. 

The program stems from federal legislation passed in 1999, when allowing employees the option to work at home was an important retention tool in a booming economy. 

Tuesday, officials said companies should be even more interested in telecommuting, given the challenges of the current economic downturn. 

“For a company working on the margins, any productivity gains are an advantage,” Mineta said. 

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