- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

There's an organization in the District that doesn't want anyone to go to work if they can help it.
The National Environmental Policy Institute isn't advocating absenteeism. But it hopes a pilot program it's starting in five locations, including Northern Virginia, will convince employers of the benefits of teleworking, or having its employees work from their homes. The move, the institute says, would reduce car emissions, improving air quality in these cities.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is looking for 10 companies in the area to take part in the program, says Nick Ramfos, director of Commuter Connections for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. None has been chosen yet.
Bob de Lorenzi, chairman of the Washington Area Council on Telework is thrilled with the NEPI's push for more telework options in the workplace, and the environmental impact it should have in the area.
"The more you can keep cars off the road, the more tremendous impact you have. If you have one percent teleworking, then that equals a traffic flow improvement of 3 percent," he says, citing a George Mason University study on the subject.
"It just creates tremendous improvements, on workers' retainment, on recruitment, on their quality of life. It's not like a medicine bottle where you look at the fine print, and see all the warnings and complications," Mr. de Lorenzi says.
Employers will earn pollution credits for reducing the number of miles their employees travel to work in cars. The idea to create and use pollution credits came from NEPI. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, came up with the idea of taking the credits and using them for trade among firms, says Elham Shirazi, a telework consultant for NEPI.
For the District, the Council of Governments will be responsible for verifying the legitimacy of earned credits. Other organizations like the COG around the country will be responsible for their region, as well.
"It lets the employers feel they're being good citizens by participating in this program," says Shelley Rappaport, program director of the nonprofit institute, a nonprofit group which focuses on environmental policy and management. "The basic philosophy of the credits is that by letting your employees work from home, it saves miles and reduces pollution." The number of credits an employer gets reflect how much the company is benefiting the environment, she says.
Companies with these credits have a number of options of using the credits to battle pollution. Employers can donate the credit to a city or state, put it up for sale, donate it for a tax deduction, or sell it to an environmental group which then retires the credit. Miss Rappaport says any company can buy the credits, including those who don't have such a clean environmental record.
Those companies, however, cannot resell the credits for money, and simply buying credits will not give a company an environmentally friendly reputation.
"Sometimes it's more costly to put in new devices, rather than buy credits. Through buying credits, there's still a net reduction in pollution," Miss Rappaport says. "But this is not like a 'get out of jail free' card. They are still being watched by the EPA."
The cities of Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Denver and Northern Virginia's Dulles corridor have been selected to participate in the two-year program scheduled to start in late April or early May.
"All the cities chosen have pretty bad air quality levels," Miss Rappaport says.
When a city fails to meet air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, it stands to lose federal transportation funds, Miss Rappaport says.
"With the funds, more roads get built, which means more cars, which causes a worse air quality," she adds.
Even if the program is successful, Mr. Ramfos says there is still a lot more work needed to do to solve the problem of air pollution, especially in the congested Beltway.
"There's some feasibility to the program, but it's not a silver bullet to solve the area's traffic congestion," Mr. Ramfos says.


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