Green Building Law Update
Congress Restricts LEED Spending
It has been a rough year for Congress. The Republican and Democrats, the House and Senate -- no one can seem to agree.
Unless we are talking about green buildings.
In June, I reported on the Department of Defense Reauthorization bill that passed the House of Representatives. In the legislation, the Department of Defense was banned from pursuing LEED Gold or Platinum certification.
But would the Senate agree to a similar LEED ban?
As reported by Lloyd Alter at Treehugger, the Senate passed the House bill with an Amendment that did not mention LEED. Thus, the Senate passed the House's LEED ban for DoD projects. You can review the messy details at Thomas.gov.
Here is the actual text of the LEED ban:
What is the intent behind the LEED ban? Is Congress concerned about the financial outlay for LEED certification? Or is Congress trying to reign in the design and construction of plush government buildings?
In fact, the intent of the LEED ban stems from a much more contested issue -- the wood wars. One member of Congress explained that he supported the DoD LEED ban because he believes LEED inaccurately evaluates wood products:
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., helped lead the effort to place the language into the appropriations bill on grounds that the Pentagon needed to think more about building products' green qualities over the course of their entire life--from the moment a product's raw materials are extracted from the earth to when that product's components are tossed out or, even better, recycled. This notion, called "life-cycle analysis," has been gaining much momentum in the green building community. And on this front, some groups--including the Green Building Initiative program, a rival to USGBC's LEED--have embraced life-cycle analysis.
"As the Department of Defense works to improve energy efficiency, it is important that its building standards be based on sound science and incorporate due process in their development and implementation," Wicker said in a statement. "Standards should take into consideration the full life cycle of wood products, including the environmental benefits provided by our domestic reforestation programs. After completing this study, the Department of Defense should use credible standards that more accurately assess U.S. wood products."
After reading that quote, I couldn't help but think of the fateful vote this past year when USGBC members shot down a LEED credit that would have recognized alternative wood certifications. Under the existing LEED rating system, points are only allocated for wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
I don't think I can overstate how important this LEED ban is for future green building policy. For example, the Navy was the first federal agency to adopt LEED certification when it did so in 2000. The Navy will have to rewrite its current LEED policies (or submit waivers for every project):
The Navy continues to aggressively pursue sustainable development; in May 2011, the Secretary of the Navy announced that all Department of the Navy Military Construction (MILCON) projects will be built to LEED Gold standards. For FY11 and FY12, applicable MILCON projects shall achieve sustainable design and construction equivalent to or above LEED Gold, with certain exceptions. For FY 13 and later, applicable MILCON projects will be required to achieve sustainable design and construction equivalent to, or above, LEED Gold.
The DoD could certainly decide to continue pursuing LEED Gold and Platinum certifications. But will DoD officials fight for LEED certification while other military programs are facing substantial cuts? This legislation will likely have a chilling effect not only on DoD green building projects but also on other federal agencies. Congress has clearly expressed an intent to not support LEED Gold and Platinum projects. Don't be surprised to see agencies adopting the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) in lieu of LEED certification.
Do you think federal officials will be willing to ask for LEED waivers?