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The EPA giveth, and taketh away federal sustainability programs

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Agency will phase out 8-year-old Climate Leaders effort, encouraging state and non-governmental alternatives. Support for programs such as the latest Green Power Community Challenge remains.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging communities to pick up the ball on green power adoption initiatives through its latest Green Power Community Challenge. The program's latest challenge comes days after the agency advised participants in its voluntary Climate Leaders Program to start working more closely with similar state and non-governmental programs.

The EPA says many state agencies and non-governmental organizations now have programs that are robust enough to replace Climate Leaders activities. Plus, the EPA is now implementing the mandatory reporting rules for greenhouse gas emissions that the program helped develop. In a letter to members of the Climate Leaders program, Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, wrote:

"Over the coming year, EPA will phase down services the agency provides under the federal Climate Leaders program and encourage and assist the transition of our partners into non-federal programs that our programs choose to join. With the exception of programs offered by our state co-regulators, EPA cannot endorse any particular program -- it is up to each [Climate Leaders participant] to decide which program would be the best fit."

Even as the Climate Leaders program fades into the sunset, the latest national Green Power Community Challenge is kicking off. This is an annual campaign in which towns, cities, villages and native American tribes compete to encourage their local businesses and residents to buy or purchase green power. The EPA defines green power as power that is generated from solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biogas and low-impact hydropower. Essentially electricity that is produced with no net increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

There are already 30 cities in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin that have become green power communities. These cities collectively buy 900 million kilowatt hours of green power annually.

The winners of the challenge will be announced in September 2011. Quarterly winners will be announced along the way.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure