LEED certification is a scam

David Williams | President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Despite their costly taxpayer-funded certification as green, government buildings in Washington, DC registered among the least energy-efficient structures in the nation according to a new analysis last week.

The District of Columbia, like 440 other municipalities across the country and more than a dozen federal agencies, requires new or renovated government structures be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

The pursuit of this certification increases construction costs up to ten percent but in return the standard is said to create more sustainable structures.  And this increase in cost is passed on to taxpayers.

In the case of DC’s government buildings, though, they’re not very sustainable, according to data culled by the Washington Examiner. Not sustainable, just costly.

The Examiner sampled energy efficiency ratings, as measured by the EnergyStar scale, of government structures in DC that had been certified green by LEED. EnergyStar’s scale runs between 1 and 100, where 100 is the greatest possible measure of efficiency and 1 is the poorest.

The analysis revealed that DC government structures that measured a 3 on the scale somehow managed to achieve LEED certification. It makes you wonder what taxpayers are getting in return.

According to the Examiner, “In addition to some particularly atrocious energy hogs curiously receiving high LEED ratings, in general, government buildings built to LEED specifications in D.C. do not perform any better than non-LEED structure.” In addition, “The median EnergyStar score among the first group was 28, insignificantly higher than the median non-LEED score of 26.5. The bottom quarter of LEED buildings actually performed worse than the bottom quarter of non-LEED ones.”

A similar study of New York City buildings also showed LEED certification doesn’t necessarily imply energy efficiency, with certified buildings often being outperformed by conventional structures.

Last year, an analysis of eleven Navy-owned buildings showed four structures backed by the standards were outperformed by non-certified ones. Four others provided negligible energy savings, especially in view of the costs for certification.

The LEED standards are administered by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which purports itself to be a beacon of environmentalism and responsible energy usage.

Yet the USGBC doesn’t even tally — or doesn’t care to share — how much energy is being consumed by the government structures it certifies. Even though it requires buildings to turn over energy usage data post-certification, it won’t revoke certification if it’s not up to par.

Within the program itself are even more reasons to question why the government wastes tax dollars on LEED.

The program awards certification on a 100 point system; only 40 are necessary for the LEED seal of approval.

Roughly one-fifth of these points have nothing to do with energy use: applicants can even win points for merely spending money on a LEED-certified “expert.” (Naturally, these experts had to pay for their own certification by the USGBC.)

Round and round we go.

It makes for some mind-boggling case studies. The Palazzo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas achieved LEED certification for simply reminding guests to reuse towels and installing bike racks. The casinos were awarded with a $27 million tax break for this faux environmentalism.

The General Services Administration (GSA), which serves as the federal government’s landlord, has also gone all-in by mandating new federal construction and renovation projects be certified by LEED. The agency estimates certification alone adds an additional $150,000 to each federal project.  This $150,000 is spent before ground is broken or any renovations begin.

But beyond the issue of waste, these standards also shut out American businesses and resources.

LEED only accepts the Forest Stewardship Council’s brand of timber certification. FSC is based overseas, has regional standards that vary around the globe, and is used by a small number of American businesses.

LEED timber certification excludes three-quarters of American forests. Over 90 percent of LEED-certified wood comes from overseas. Given the energy used in transportation and the fact that it’s hurting the American economy, LEED timber certification does not make any sense environmentally or economically.

The nonsensical exclusion of products also include important and safe plastics, like PVC and bullet-proof glass. (Keep in mind that places like court houses are included among those buildings required for LEED certification, which asks builders to avoid life-saving products like bullet-proof glass.)

All that LEED really amounts to are phony environmental standards and another unnecessary burden on taxpayers. It’s time to stop the boondoggle and open the doors of fairness and competition.

David Williams is president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance
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