Last week, I had the pleasure of testifying before the D.C. Council regarding green building policies in the district.  As mentioned in my post last week, the focus of my testimony was the Green Building Act’s "performance bond" requirement.  Before my testimony, I had the opportunity to hear George Hawkins, Director of the District Department of the Environment.  During his speech, Mr. Hawkins directly addressed the "performance bond" issue and many of the points I raised in my White Paper last Wednesday.  After you review Mr. Hawkins testimony, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts. 

“Performance Bond” Requirement for Private Projects

I would now like to turn to the issue of performance bonds and criticism of this enforcement tool. Pursuant to the Act, commercial applicants will be required to submit a “performance bond.” If the building fails to meet the LEED certification requirements, “all or part of the performance bond shall be forfeited to the District.” Experts in the area of environmental finance analysis and DDOE’s research on the subject support this approach as an appropriate and sufficient enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with the Act.

One of the concerns that has been raised is that “performance bonds” do not currently exist in the financial assurance world. There are, however, a number of laws and regulations that have required forms of financial assurance that at the time of the inception did not exist in the market. In each regulatory context, private financial markets have developed to provide the insurance, bonds, and other financial instruments necessary to demonstrate assurance. For example, before there were automobiles, there was no such thing as car insurance. When the law recognized a growing need to insure against harms that may be perpetrated by automobile drivers to others, the market rose to the demand.

The breadth of operations and environmental risks covered by current rules is an additional testament to the market’s ability to conform to and rise to the demand of a new form of financial assurance. For example, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires that financial assurance be provided by the responsible party as proof that adequate funds will be available when needed to undertake the necessary corrective action at a RCRA treatment, storage, and disposal facility. Many states have their own laws requiring financial assurance, including our own DDOE requirement that developers post a bond equal to the cost of stormwater management infrastructure until DDOE verifies proper installation.

A second concern that has been raised is that it may prove difficult and financially burdensome for developers to provide letters of credit, collateral to obtain a bond, or escrow in amounts up to $3,000,000 (the maximum requirement under the Green Building Act). While opposition to new financial assurance rules is common regardless of industry, DDOE believes fears of business disruption from this new assurance requirement are unwarranted. When the District began to require condominium developers to place 10 percent of the cost of construction in an escrow account or provide a letter of credit under the Condominium Act, the same concerns were cited, and yet, this is now common practice.

An additional criticism of the current “performance bond” requirement is that the enforcement mechanism creates an inherent conflict of interest because those that would require forfeiture of the bonds would also directly benefit from the forfeiture. If forfeited, performance bond funds are to be “deposited in the Green Building Fund.” Under the Act, the Green Building Fund is to be used, in part, for “staffing and operating costs to provide technical assistance, plan review, and inspections and monitoring of green buildings.” On the contrary, it is important to note that many legally-required fees, fines, and penalties are used by governments to fund the operation of the program under which they are collected. For example, D.C. Official Code § 7-632 authorizes the establishment of a Regulatory Enforcement Fund to be used by DDOE to finance its regulatory practice. The Council has routinely authorized use of enforcement proceeds to finance future enforcement actions.

In summary, we believe the bond requirement under the Green Building Act is viable and can be implemented. We have already, and will continue to, participate in discussions with our sister agencies and stakeholders as to how this enforcement mechanism should best be implemented.

Do you think Mr. Hawkins is right?  Will the financial sector come up with a green building performance bond?