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Chevy's Carbon Plan: Less Than Meets the Eye

Publication Date: 
June 02, 2011
Bloomberg Business Week
Ben Elgin

Professor Michael Wara spoke with Ben Elgin of Bloomberg Business Week about a $40 million environmental plan by Chevrolet which promises to help reduce carbon emissions.

Last year, Chevrolet announced an incentive for the environmentally minded. For anyone who buys a Chevy between Nov. 18 and the end of 2011, the company promises to purchase carbon offsets, which are payments meant to encourage environmentally friendly projects that reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the impact of the new autos' pollution.

Based on the first transaction in Chevrolet's $40 million plan, the actual carbon 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.

"The key is that decisions are actually altered by the creation of this carbon credit," says Michael Wara, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School and a scholar of environmental law. "If they're not, then we're basically buying hot air."