The Expensive Truth About Green Regulations

By David Williams

There is quite a bit of skepticism about the environmental movement, and when a non-profit environmental group, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is given a taxpayer monopoly over green building certification of our nation’s federal buildings, the consequences are catastrophic to taxpayers and an economy trying to create jobs. Because the group’s certification process puts American job-supporting industries at a competitive disadvantage as the certification process strives to meet European standards, it is time to take the “U.S.” out of “U.S. Green Building Council.”

The USGBC is the group that established the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standard, which is afforded monopoly status by America’s largest landlord, the General Services Administration (GSA). The GSA is the federal government agency that is responsible for the construction and maintenance of federal buildings, and all buildings under its purview are required to meet these green building standards. Similar requirements to adhere to LEED have been implemented by 39 states and more than 400 local municipalities.

Making our government buildings energy-efficient is a sensible policy goal, but government regulatory policy should not be outsourced to an ostensibly non-profit environmental activist organization that lines its pockets through an unfair and arbitrary system.

The process of this “green” certification alone can cost up to $27,000. That figure does not include special materials that might be needed to meet the rigid Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards or federal and state Davis/Bacon requirements. Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act in 1931 to ensure that “prevailing wages” are paid on federal construction projects worth $2,000 or more. What most people don’t know is that the Davis-Bacon Act inflates the cost of federal construction projects and discriminates against small businesses, women, and minorities.

Given the number of government buildings across the country, taxpayers have been the major funders of the $100 million in revenue that the non-profit USGBC accrued over 2009. There are additional green building standards that could be relied upon by the government to harness marketplace competition in this arena to help improve building efficiencies at lower costs to taxpayers by examining the alternatives.

Now, the GSA is considering adoption of a new government-approved green building standard: ‘LEED v4.’

Thankfully, the arbitrary standards in this new version are finally causing the USGBC to receive some of the scrutiny it deserves. A congressional panel recently examined GSA’s exclusive utilization of this arbitrary building standard process and found that many of the proposed are arbitrary or counterproductive. In fact, some rules incentivize avoidance of the very innovative materials that have helped meet the goals of energy efficiency and sustainability.

Products such as plastic insulation, vinyl roofing, and LED lighting are discouraged through a chemical avoidance credit in LEED v4 that uses the European Union’s REACH regulations as a benchmark. This is a standard that small and medium U.S. based manufacturers are unfamiliar with and will struggle to meet. Moreover, there are “credits” for certification in this new standard that could reward architects for rejecting modern technology and instead use a thatched strawroof, yet dissuade builders who use bullet resistant glass in federal courthouses.

As the USGBC picks winners and losers in the marketplace, other sectors of our economy are also affected by so called ‘green certification.’ It only recognizes one type of forestry certification system, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as good enough to include in construction of green buildings. FSC is partial to environmentalists and hostile to taxpayers and job creators. It is based in Germany and 90 percent of its certified forests are overseas. That statistic means devastating consequences for the American timber industry because 75 percent of domestic certified forests are prohibited for use in government buildings by the USGBC's standards system.

 The U.S. Green Building Council monopoly that has been created by the GSA hurts job creation, weakens various American industries, and unnecessarily costs taxpayers hard-earned money. This is not a recipe for success when our nation is fighting a heavy blanket of regulation to again be able to compete, recover and grow. The LEED revision process underway offers an opportunity to get back the core mission and remove this monopoly driven by activist agendas.

David Williams is President of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. In his 18 years in Washington, DC, David has become an expert in finding and exposing government waste and has helped identify and eliminate earmarks.

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