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New Environmental Standards Losing Favor With Federal Agencies

David Williams on 2013-05-16 14:56:55

For the past year the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has been investigating the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system, which inflates the cost of construction by millions of dollars per building without providing proof of any environmental or energy-efficiency benefits.  Since 2010, the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal government’s landlord, has mandated LEED gold standards for all new federal buildings.  The federal government, 35 states and over 170 cities now require LEED certification or give builders tax breaks for building to LEED specifications.  The driving force behind LEED is the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), a 13,000-member non-profit run by activists, architects, builders and building suppliers that collects up to $35,000 in fees for each LEED certification.

Leaders in Congress have held oversight hearings to address concerns about the unchecked proliferation of LEED and its expansion into undefined areas beyond its core mission of improving energy efficiency.  In the fall of 2012, concerns were elevated even further by an extensive investigative series into the USGBC and LEED certification that was published in USA Today.

Despite these concerns, LEED is still moving forward, driven by its supporters who stand to benefit financially from its continued use by the federal government.  On May 3, GSA’s Green Building Advisory Committee held a vote on the continued use of LEED as the sole green building certification system used for all federal buildings.   The Building Advisory Committee is comprised of both government agency representatives and interested parties from the building and construction industry.  Stacked with architects, builders and suppliers who have a vested monetary interest in LEED, the Building Advisory Committee recommended keeping the requirement that the federal government only use LEED for green building certification via a 10-6 vote.  Board members with clear conflicts of interest were able to vote to keep their preferred standard and continue the taxpayer-funded monopoly for the USGBC.

UPDATE: Attendees at the GSA Green Building Advisory Committee confirm that representatives of the federal agencies on the board—including Veterans Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Health and Human Services and others—voted against keeping LEED as the sole standard for government buildings.  The Department of Defense abstained from the vote, but the measure still passed because ten favorable votes came from non-governmental parties that have a stake in the USGBC and LEED.  The beneficiaries of a monopoly voted to keep their monopoly.


LEED claims to be to be a voluntary, market driven program that provides independent, third-party verification of green buildings.  In reality, LEED is not a consensus-based system as required by the Energy Independence Security Act.  It is an expensive program that costs taxpayers billions of dollars in additional construction costs that ultimately line the pockets of the USGBC member.  Alternative green building certification programs exist that can help to us meet energyefficiency and sustainability goals, but the USGBC has obtained a government-funded monopoly for LEED.

In addition to the GSA mandate for federal buildings, roughly 2,000developments, buildings and homes have received $500 million in tax breaks nationwide thanks to LEED certification.   LEED awards credits to builders for certain design items. For commercial buildings to earn LEED certification, a project must earn a minimum 40 points on a 110-point LEED rating system scale.  But the requirements to obtain those credits are often laughable and have little or no correlation to energy efficiency.  On October 24, 2012, USA Today highlighted the fact that The Palazzo Hotel and Casino received a $27 million tax break for its environmentally friendly design  “for having bike racks in the garage; room cards telling guests when towels are replaced; landscaping that does not use grass, which local law prohibits anyway; and preferred parking for fuel-efficient cars — spots that on a recent week were occupied by Ford Expeditions, Chevy Tahoes, Range Rovers, Mercedes E320s, Chrysler 300s, Audi A6s, vans, sports cars and a Hummer.”

Last year, TPA highlighted these fundamental problems with LEED and the attempt to institute an updated version of the system, called “LEED v4.”  In TPA’s public comment letter to the USGBC, TPA pointed out that products such as plastic insulation, vinyl roofing, and LED lighting are discouraged through the chemical avoidance credits in LEED v4, which 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 standardthat could reward architects for rejecting modern technology and chose instead to use a thatched straw roof, yet the standards dissuade builders who use bullet resistant glass in federal courthouses.  LEED v4 is filled witharbitrary and requirements that pick winners in losers in the marketplace.

If the federal the government is truly concerned about the environment, they can do so by offering other energy efficiency standards that won’t cost taxpayers billions of dollars in unnecessary additional construction costs.  It is time for GSA to protect taxpayers and end the unfair monopoly for the USGC and LEED.

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