Telecommute Bill Targets Nation's Five Most Gridlocked Cities

Companies in the most traffic-congested regions of the country would receive pollution credits for allowing their employees to work from home, under legislation proposed earlier this week.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's transportation subcommittee, introduced the National Telecommuting and Air Quality Act as an attachment to the transportation funding bill currently being considered. Wolf's plan is designed to help regions reduce smog and meet federal clean air laws by letting employees telecommute and awarding credits to their companies. The businesses would then be free to buy, sell and trade the credits with other firms and nonprofit groups.

"Telecommuting is the information age's answer to traffic congestion, environmental stewardship and strengthening the family," Wolf said at a press conference introducing the legislation. "The goal is to provide an incentive for the public and private sectors to use telecommuting."

Wolf's legislation would award a $250,000 grant to the National Environmental Policy Institute (NEPI), a nonprofit organization devoted to improving environmental policy and management, to work with the departments of Transportation and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop the pilot credit programs. The first programs would take place in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., -- the nation's two most gridlocked regions -- by next year. Other-high traffic regions would be included in the program at a later date.

"This is an effort on the part of the private sector and local and state governments to [make] a change in work patterns that can really help in cleaning up the air, reducing traffic congestion and saving energy," said Don Ritter, chairman of NEPI.

Ritter also said three other regions with heavy traffic flows will be selected for the program as soon as funding has been approved. "This is a noncoercive, out-of-the-box way to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion by keeping cars off the road."

The Act mirrors a national credit trading program for acid rain emissions. That program rewards businesses for cutting their emissions below certain levels and allows them to trade or keep the credits at their own discretion.

Wolf announced the proposal earlier this week and was joined by representatives from environmental groups as well as executives from AT& T Corp. and other companies.

AT& T plans to host summits in five Western U.S. cities to encourage community leaders to commit to telecommuting programs to help alleviate congestion and improve air quality, a company spokeswoman said. The company also will hold a similar summit in the D.C. area in conjunction with Wolf's office.

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