Bailed-Out GM Spends Millions on Phantom Carbon Offsets

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A report on the Businessweek Web site Thursday illustrated how Chevrolet, General Motors’ subsidiary which gets most of its media love these days over the hyper-sensationalized electric Volt, is building its “Green-cred” in ways other than by the vehicles it manufactures.

But just as with the tax credit program for the Volt, in which dealers were discovered to be selling the vehicles to other dealers who then claim the $7,500 credit for themselves, all is not what it appears to be.

The story is about a program Chevy announced late last year, in which the company promised to purchase carbon dioxide offsets that would fund “environmentally-friendly” projects, which would counterbalance the emissions created by the 1.9 million vehicles the company expects to sell in 2011. Among the projects Chevrolet said would be funded were forestry projects, methane capture from landfills, wind farms, solar farms, and energy efficiency projects and upgrades.

With pride, GM announced the program in November:

“GM has made great progress in reducing our environmental impact, but we know we can do more,” said General Motors CEO Dan Akerson.  “Chevrolet’s investment is an extension of the environmental initiatives we’ve been undertaking for years because the solution to global environmental challenges goes beyond just vehicles.

“This is an opportunity to connect with Chevy customers through clean energy projects that directly impact them.”

And the company received plaudits from an environmental activist group for its plans:

"Chevy’s Volt and its clean energy investment both exemplify the bold leadership businesses can take today to address our changing climate," said (Eileen) Claussen, (president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change). "Its commitment to community-focused clean energy and energy efficiency investments will drive change and increase awareness across the country."

So did the Chevrolet program produce real, meaningful carbon dioxide reduction? The Businessweek report focused on one such efficiency program, and it does not show great integrity:

Based on the first transaction in Chevrolet's $40 million plan, the actual carbon (dioxide) reductions will be far less than promised. The automaker is paying almost $750,000 to bolster a state program in Maine that insulates homes for low-income families. The investment is enough to weatherize 170 houses and reduce carbon emissions by 1,224 tons through 2014, according to the Maine State Housing Authority. Yet Chevrolet is receiving credits for 45,738 tons worth of reduced carbon—the total savings Maine expects through 2014 from weatherizing all 5,500 homes in the program.

Why? Because a nonprofit that allegedly tracks the legitimacy of carbon dioxide offsets, called the Verified Carbon Standard Association, allowed the State of Maine to sell credits for its program to partial contributors that allowed them to take credit for offsetting the entire program. According to Businessweek, the housing authority received $41.9 million from the federal stimulus program, which covered 80 percent of the weatherization project. Grants from other government programs paid for most of the rest.

So in effect, Chevrolet/GM received credit for the purchase of carbon dioxide offsets that would have occurred anyway without the benefit of the company’s “investment.” The magazine noted that Chevy was not ignorant of the program’s design, reporting, “the General Motors division acknowledged that U.S. funds from an economic stimulus grant and other programs would contribute to the home improvements.

Still, the company takes full credit for its phantom environmental actions – it even created a website: chevycarbonreduction.com. There Chevy claims, “We are working to find the right projects. Ones that will make a lasting difference in communities around the country.” An animated video, which pushes the “scientists say too much (CO2) is bad for the environment” alarmist position, amplifies Chevy's message to Greens:

Why is Chevy doing this, the video narrator asks? She altruistically answers, “Our children, our future, and the simple fact that we’re all in this together. Today, tomorrow, and into a brighter future.”

That’s GM: sponging off taxpayers not only to save the company and its unions, but also using them to score points with eco-extremists.

Paul Chesser is associate fellow for the National Legal & Policy Center and is executive director for American Tradition Institute.