USA Today: Green Building Program a Burden on Taxpayers

USA Today: Green Building Program a Burden on Taxpayers

A USA Today examination of the popular Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program revealed the system’s vaulted green standards have negligible impact on a building’s environmental footprint while often making staggering tax breaks available to developers.

In total, 13 federal agencies, 34 state governments and 442 localities across the country mandate LEED performance standards in government buildings. According to estimates by the General Services Administration, one of the 13 agencies to adopt the program, the associated soft costs–those fees doled to program-certified consultants–run taxpayers an additional $150,000 per project.

For states like Ohio, in which LEED is the de facto green building code, the certification costs for new public schools built in the last five years have added $131 million to construction costs.

Private commercial buildings, which roughly 85 municipalities require adherence to LEED standards, have also reduced government revenues for often doing little more than hiring program-certified building consultants. Private developers have reaped some $500 million in tax incentives nationwide for often doing something as simple as installing a bike rack.

“People have a tendency to buy points,” Bob Berkebile, one of LEED’s original architects in the 1990s, said of the program’s merit system. “[T]hey buy that bike rack even though there’s no value in it.”

A recent study of 11 Navy LEED-certified buildings revealed that four of the bunch used more energy than a typical building. An equal measure outperformed non-certified buildings, but by a degree so minimal the improvement was insufficient to earn any LEED points.

No value in spite of government rewards? Worse, it comes at the expense of otherwise sound safety and energy standards.

While LEED’s standards have recently proven environmentally ineffective, its standards have become increasingly economically detrimental, the result borne of the program’s politicization by progressive environmentalists.

Amid crushing public opposition, the USGBC recently tabled an amended version of LEED. The root of outrage, which spread even to a host of congressional lawmakers, was in the program’s avoidance prescriptions. 

If adopted, the new version would limit the application of polycarbonate shatter-resistant glass in federal courthouses and other buildings, likewise common plastics like PVC.

Forestry groups have also raised concern about LEED’s sole preference for a single timber certification program when other responsible alternatives are sidelined. (Some governors, like Maine’s Paul LePage and Georgia’s Nathan Deal, have since taken action in their own jurisdictions to block LEED’s government adoption lest it opens certification guidelines to all systems.)

In the end, taxpayers are left with a monopoly driven by environmental extremists lining their own pockets. Perhaps the next building project certified green by LEED should be a museum to the program’s failure in substantively reducing environmental impact.