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WILLIAMS: ‘Eco-friendly’ rules fail, except to skyrocket costs

Ineffective new ‘green’ building standards have taxpayers, builders seeing red

- - Thursday, November 28, 2013

The U.S. Green Building Council, the controversial nonprofit whose green building standards are mandated by 14 federal agencies, as well as 34 state governments, and in excess of 440 municipalities, is the cornerstone of a widespread taxpayer shakedown.

This week, the shakedown expanded when the council began applying changes to its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, adding new categories such as climate change, human health and biodiversity.

These amendments would be an occasion for celebration if they erased the program's legion failings but instead, the new changes only make the existing problems more pronounced.

According to a recent performance analysis conducted by the Washington Examiner, program compliance has few energy rewards and steep financial burdens. In New York, the paper found the LEED-certified buildings actually consumed more energy per square foot than conventional buildings.

It's not just New York where Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's vaunted green buildings are failing to outperform conventional structures.

A study of 11 U.S. Navy-owned buildings in January revealed four certified green structures were outperformed by noncertified structures; three more were at parity; and four others so narrowly outperformed conventional buildings their margin of energy savings were so insignificant they couldn't earn points in the LEED program.

The U.S. General Services Administration, which serves as the landlord for the federal government by managing its various properties, estimates that each federal project in which LEED certification is pursued costs the taxpayers an additional $150,000.

It's not just when Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is followed by the government that taxpayers bear its brunt, though. The program gets you coming and going.

Merely by installing bike racks and reminding guests to reuse towels, the Palazzo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas won certification. In return, it received a $27 million tax break.

How has U.S. Green Building Council managed to become the government's de facto green-building czar? Pretty simple: the promise of LEED compliance is a powerful one — that through intelligent design and construction, buildings can have a lesser impact on our environment and even cost less over the long run. However, its practice falls far short.

Not only does LEED-certification not lead to more energy-efficient buildings, the standards are also detrimental to local businesses who are shut out of government contracts because their products don't meet the program's arbitrary product approval.

Take, for instance, the case of Lampe & Malphrus, a manufacturer of Southern pine lumber in North Carolina. The company, which has its lumber certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), is unable to provide lumber to LEED projects because those standards only recognize lumber that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Instead of supporting responsibly sourced U.S. timber, LEED compliance forces government builders to look elsewhere — mainly FSC-rich Russia — for lumber. Ross Lampe, half of the Tar Heel State timber company's namesake, wrote of his struggles earlier this year:

"For the last several years, we have not been able to sell or supply lumber to state building and renovation projects. The reason for our getting blocked from these projects is that the state enforces 'LEED' standards for builders and businesses seeking to participate. LEED affects the timber industry, as it only awards sourcing credits to wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. A minuscule number of Southern pine lumber companies have received FSC certification in Southern states, none of which are headquartered in North Carolina."

Forest Stewardship Council certification immediately excludes wood produced in 75 percent of America's certified forests. In fact, 90 percent of the approved wood for LEED buildings comes from foreign suppliers.

Not only is our government's insistence on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design compliance wasting tax dollars and failing to positively affect environmental impact, but it's threatening American industry simply to pacify environmental radicals.

"Going green" is making the government ledger go red. This order of waste and taxpayer abuse is a feat even for the Obama White House, and it's high time it ended.

David Williams is the president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.