Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Inspector General: national parks climate initiative weak, ineffective

by Matt Rosenberg September 12th, 2011

SUMMARY: According to a report by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Inspector General, a voluntary climate change initiative of the U.S. National Park Service called Climate Friendly Parks is mainly window dressing because it has no consistent accountability and performance measures, and suffers from poor data inputs at the front end. With tough new greenhouse gas reduction goals coming for the U.S. government under an executive order, the initiative might be best consolidated with a broader, and mandatory type of environmental protection program that the parks service and each other federal agency will have to develop and implement, in their own way, to meet those goals.

BACKGROUND: National parks are considered a “canary in the coal mine” for the effects of climate change, and a first line of defense. As a result, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) developed a voluntary initiative called Climate Friendly Parks (CFP) to address the current and potential future effects of man-made climate change on U.S. national parks. The initiative was launched in 2002 in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency. To qualify as a CFP member, a national park has to do a baseline assessment of in-park greenhouse gas emissions, have staff attend a workshop, and fashion an action plan. Twenty-four U.S. national parks are CFP members, 40 more are completing the needed steps. The Pacific West Region of the parks service, which includes a support office in Seattle, is the most active in the initiative. The parent agency of the park service is The U.S. Department of the Interior. To see how the CFP initiative is working out and could be improved to meet new government-wide standards on greenhouse gas reduction, Interior’s independent oversight division, the Office of the Inspector General (IG), did a performance evaluation.

KEY LINK: “Evaluation: National Park Service Climate-Friendly Parks Initiative,” Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of the Interior, August, 2011

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The stakes on climate change are raised by new greenhouse gas reporting standards in Executive Order 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance.” The Executive Order requires federal agencies to reduce the use of petroleum fuels in vehicle fleets 30 percent by 2020; to improve water efficiency 26 percent by the same year; divert or recycle 50 percent more waste by 2015; to implement a “zero-net-energy” building requirement by 2030; and to ensure that 95 percent of all new applicable contracts meet federal sustainability standards. The order also requires agencies to continue work on implementing an “environmental management system” to calculate baseline agency-wide “baseline inventories” of greenhouse gas emissions, and to then “measure, report and reduce” emissions to meet the targets of the order.
  • The Climate Friendly Parks (CFP) initiative lacks tools to track progress and the best ways for U.S. national parks to fight climate change. The Inspector General’s report states, “We found that accountability ends once a park develops an action plan” and become a CFP member. “A standard mechanism does not exist to measure, track and report a park’s progress and outcome, or analyze which actions have been the most beneficial.”
  • Classification of a national park as a member in good standing of the CFP initiative occurs automatically, even if actions goals aren’t met and park emissions not lowered. National Park Service officials do “little to no oversight” once action plans are completed, target dates for improvements are rarely set, and any actions performed and subsequent emissions levels are rarely recorded.
  • Mount Rainier, from Shriner Peak Trail, Mount Rainer National Park/Matt Rosenberg

  • The CFP initiative has serious problems with the data that is currently collected due in part to shortcomings around an Excel-based spreadsheet tool called CLIP, or Climate Leadership in Parks. CLIP is used to capture estimates of each member park’s greenhouse gas emissions but the inputs are made by interns who have been hired for only one year, and checked by contractors, not staff supervisors. The baseline emissions inventories haven’t been reverified for 2008 accuracy as now required. There’s no data updating schedule to support ongoing measurements of progress on greenhouse gas reduction, and the individual parks data must be inputted manually, making the totals more prone to error, because CLIP has no agency-wide automatic data aggregation capability.
  • While CFP has “educated and empowered” parks employees on climate change it has “never matured from an initiative to full-scale program.” Going forward, it might do so. But to best improve efficiency and performance on greenhouse gas reduction goals, NPS should nonetheless consider folding the voluntary CFR initiative into the “environmental management system” that NPS and all other federal agencies are required to implement under Executive Order 13514.
  • The Interior OIG report includes a response from the National Park Service. NPS says by June 2012 it will have a new system in place to track actions and results in CFP member parks, and that by September 2012 it will finish a plan to better inventory greenhouse gas emissions in its entire parks system. The agency also says by June 2012 it will improve the CLIPS Excel spreadsheet tool to “increase” its “ability” to aggregate emissions data from different parks, and by December 2012 NPS says it will complete a long-term plan on whether and how to integrate the CFP initiative with other environmental programs.

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