Policy

Three House Democrats call for tighter carbon offset standards

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Thursday, May 19, 2022 to discuss the Puerto Rico Status Act.
Greg Nash
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Thursday, May 19, 2022 to discuss the Puerto Rico Status Act.

Three House Democrats in environmental leadership positions on Tuesday called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to strengthen standards for voluntary carbon offsets. 

In the letter, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee; Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee; and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, noted that there is no single standard for voluntary carbon offset programs. 

“We must do all we can to implement meaningful solutions to the climate crisis. As natural climate carbon offsets gain popularity, it is essential we understand (1) the current market environment and (2) gaps in protocols for assessing market quality and credibility in order to provide clarity for market operators and transparency for offset purchasers,” the members wrote. 

The members requested a full GAO study on federal coordination with offset markets, how the actual determination of carbon reductions is quantified, what federal agencies can do to increase transparency in the market and how to prevent fraud and abuse in the market. 

Demand has increased recently for carbon offset projects, in which people and institutions reduce carbon emissions elsewhere to compensate for emissions. However, some environmentalists have criticized the process as a form of greenwashing, or marketing that exaggerates environmental friendliness.

Greenpeace International has criticized offsets as “a bookkeeping trick intended to obscure climate-wrecking emissions.”  

Lack of oversight is another common criticism. Huffman tweeted on Tuesday that “we must ensure transparency so that when folks sign up to help the environment, it actually happens.” 

“Metrics to gauge the efficacy of offsets — including measuring, reporting, and verification — vary from program to program, making it difficult for consumers to understand their purchase and for policymakers to quantify the impact of these markets,” the members wrote.

“Markets thrive with transparency, while a lack of transparency carries inherent market risk. Consumers of voluntary climate offsets require transparency and well-defined standards in the natural carbon offsets market given the wide variety and possibility for fraud.”

Tags Carbon offset projects Government accountability office Greenpeace International House Natural Resources Committee Jared Huffman Jared Huffman Kathy Castor Kathy Castor Raul Grijalva Raul Grijalva

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