End the USGBC Green Certification Monopoly

Many Americans are familiar with the term “LEED,” the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system that sets green building standards. Far less familiar to taxpayers and consumers, however, is the organization known as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC is the non-governmental environmental advocacy group behind LEED. The group effectively serves as an unchecked, taxpayer-fueled monopoly on green building standards as it imposes arbitrary and burdensome regulations without having to answer to Congress or the American people.

A reported 39 states, some 400 municipalities and virtually the entire federal government - through the now infamous General Services Administration (GSA) - mandate that all new government buildings and renovations to existing structures meet arbitrary LEED standards. That is a significant amount of real estate seeking the green blessing of an organization that increasingly seems driven by ideology and influence rather than sound science and economic common sense. For evidence of the USGBC’s radical agenda, look no further than its founding chairman and LEED mastermind, Robert Watson, a career environmental activist who once lamented, “Buildings are literally the worst thing that humans do to the planet.”

Why, then, have the federal government, dozens of states, and hundreds of municipalities surrendered the regulatory keys to an organization that exploits the LEED brand in order to pursue its founder’s radical agenda? That is a question that leaders in industry and in Congress have started to ask. Congress has held hearings on the high costs of LEED and the negative consequences that the proposed changes would have for economic growth. As a result of those hearings, a bipartisan group of 74 legislators has written the GSA and objected to the proposed changes to the flawed process.

With the “non-profit” USGBC’s reported revenue growing to more than $100 million in 2009 alone – a significant portion of which is drawn from taxpayer money – it is imperative that the American people, Congress and other government officials expose the USGBC’s motives, and reconsider the wisdom of sanctioning its agenda-driven monopoly.

That is particularly true regarding proposed revisions to the green rating system collectively known as “LEEDv4.”

LEED v4 would discourage the use of many common building materials and other products that are regularly found in construction projects. Everyday products such as PVC piping, foam insulation, heat reflective roofing and LED lighting would suddenly be prohibited or severely restricted if LEED v4 is adopted. Such restrictions would have a significant negative impact on the businesses that make these products, and would cost precious American jobs at a time when we should instead be working to support the domestic manufacturing and construction industries.

Although the objective of constructing more energy-efficient buildings is a laudable goal, the closed process by which LEED standards are determined exacerbates the potential adverse economic effects listed above. Meanwhile, several alternative green building ratings systems place greater reliance on data, science, and a consensus from various stakeholders. In fact, one of the GSA’s own reports shows that there are equally effective and less expensive green buildings rating systems that the government could adopt. Incorporating the more cost-effective standards used by other green building rating systems would harness the power of competition to improve the overall green-building certification process. In contrast, sole reliance on the seemingly arbitrary and oftentimes capricious standards found in LEED v4 will only serve to hurt American business and job creation efforts.

Fortunately, a federal review period currently underway offers the opportunity to return credibility to a once-respected green certification system. That process involves soliciting public comment on proposed LEEDv4 revisions that would cause such extensive harm. The Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) is engaged in this public comment period to state our objections to the proposed new LEED standards, and to the USGBC’s determination to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.

Adopting LEED v4 in its current incarnation as the new government-approved standard is simply unacceptable, and the era of the USGBC’s taxpayer-subsidized monopoly must end. The mandatory review process underway is the time to exert pressure that can force the reformation of this flawed process and restore the core mission of LEED, which has previously had a positive impact on improving energy efficiency in the United States. Short of such reform, the federal government must pursue the use of alternative green building certification systems.

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