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LEED Watch: Brace Yourselves... LEED v4 Is Coming

David Williams & Michi Iljazi on 2013-07-17 12:34:14

GSA HQ in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

As the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) continues to expose wasteful and unnecessary spending, we have also taken a sharp look at needless regulation.  One area of particular interest to TPA for its cost to taxpayers has been the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system that is owned by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and used by the General Services Administration (GSA) as the exclusive system to certify federal buildings as “green.”. TPA is concerned about a private, non-consensus based non-profit organizations like the USGBC being involved in creating non-science standards that are then relied upon to dictate government policies with broad influence over the entire green building marketplace.  The relationship between the federal government and the USGBC when it comes to the issue of LEED certification is something that TPA has been seeking greater transparency on for quite some time now.  Not only is the USGBC dictating these policies, they are lining their pockets with taxpayer dollars because the process of LEED certification alone can cost up to $27,000, payable from the taxpayer to the USGBC.

Part of TPA’s campaign has been to get a closer look at the relationship between the GSA and the USGBC.  In January of this year TPA submitted three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request  to the GSA related to its close relationship with the USGBC, and yet here we are still waiting for answers to these basic, but extremely important questions from the groups involved. The request is for all email correspondence between the GSA and USGBC regarding LEED.  Although it has been more than half a year since these FOIAs were filed, we have yet to receive the information we are entitled to under law.  What we have received is a bureaucratic run around.

Last year, TPA warned about the “new” LEED standards, known as LEED v.4 (click here to read previous blog posting).  LEED v.4 is now set for official use as it has been approved. TPA warned that adopting LEED standards would be harmful for taxpayers and businesses “by explicitly offering a significant competitive advantage to favored industries, the USGBC is implicitly discouraging and unfairly targeting other industries.  The LEED proposals will negatively impact manufacturers of materials that ironically aid in the construction of energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly buildings.”

The problem with LEED v4 is that it is worse than the original LEED system in that it has strayed from the original mission of promoting energy efficiency, instead punishing those who use certain products, while relying on non-scientific reasoning as a basis for the new guidelines. In fact, many of the products that the recent LEED v4 seeks to eliminate can be directly linked to the very efficiency improvements, environmental performance and sustainability that LEED supposedly aims to promote.

The USGBC has made a bad system worse and they lack the expertise to even be trusted on many of the new standards they are implementing. Recently TPA wrote about the displeasure of many with regards to LEED and how many agencies were falling out of love with the new regulatory measures.  LEED v4 may only increase the opposition from these agencies because now the standards are delving into issues where they haven’t before and they shouldn’t be in the first place. New issue areas include “chemical safety” and “risk assessment” and these are areas that USGBC member committees and higher-ups have no experience or expertise. While these concerns delayed action, it did not ultimately halt it.

The incentives are something of a mystery too, especially when you consider that new credits for LEED v4 were put together lacking any real expertise from those who actually perform chemical risk analyses and assessments. This leaves a certification system based on flawed and non-scientific standards disregarding "availability, safety, or effectiveness of alternatives,” while other regulatory agencies do adhere to the strict guidelines and screening methodologies of chemical safety (i.e. the EPA). One chemical company, Dow Chemical, agrees, Dow spokesperson Nancy Lamb stated last month that, “Dow is very committed to thorough evaluation of the health risk potential of all of our building products and technologies,” Lamb said. “However, we believe this falls under chemical regulation” better managed by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

The fact of the matter is that there is certainly room for federal agencies to consider a range of options when it comes to standards and guidelines for greater energy efficiency (i.e. Green Globes) instead of allowing the USGBC to claim a monopoly on standards that don’t even live up to its originally stated goals. The USGBC and GSA need not collaborate to make things more difficult for taxpayers and job creators when it comes to energy efficient… they must be above board in their approach and they must do so in way that is beneficial to achieving efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.

TPA is dedicated to continuing efforts to seek greater transparency, a more accountable system, and a real commonsense approach when it comes to efficiency programs that the taxpayers are subsidizing. The questions asked in the FOIAs we have submitted are legitimate and we demand answers. The connection between the USGBC and the GSA is real, and it is important that we learn as much about it from those groups themselves as possible because transparency must be the standard. Those responsible for implementing this system must also answer why the guidelines they are using to implement new regulations are not only lacking in scientific foundation, but why they are getting involved in areas that are outside the scope of their own expertise.

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