Oregon LEEDing The Way To Break The Timber Certification Monopoly

David Williams President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
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The deeply forested state of Oregon may have been in the final one-third of states to join the Union in the latter half of the 19th century, but today the state rates among the very first in the nation working to dismantle the certification monopoly that for decades has quietly strangled America’s timber industry and unnecessarily burdened taxpayers.

Last week, under the direction of Gov. John Kitzhaber, the Oregon Department of Forestry released a new white paper examining the economic impact of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program’s prejudices against the state’s two prevailing timber certification standards, the American Tree Farm System and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

LEED, the green building standard of choice for some 34 state governments and 440 municipalities across the country, plus more than a dozen federal agencies, awards its “green” construction points only for the sourcing of timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The other two are left in the cold.

In Oregon — of which half of the state’s 61 million acres is forested — this means an overwhelming majority of certified timber is necessarily left out of state construction projects. Here, only 137,950 acres of forests are FSC approved for LEED sourcing; 3,351,791 more acres, meanwhile, are SFI-approved. That’s 3.5 million acres sourced from environmentally responsible forests that are excluded from the resource pool in government projects and any corporate job pursuing LEED crediting.

The Kitzhaber study, like an earlier white paper from George Mason University’s EconoSTATS, recommended that “there should be a level playing field among the leading forest certification systems” so as not to shut out sustainable domestic products in the green building sector.

Today that playing field remains stilted, harming jobs and a massive local industry. But it doesn’t have to be this way. This study marks a startling posture realignment for a state that was previously intentionally vague on green building generally and the LEED-FSC overlap specifically.

Because just 3.9 percent of Oregon’s forests are FSC-certified, and in turn LEED approved, last year’s EconoSTATS study estimated that a dizzying 31,000 jobs would be lost if FSC became the mandatory certification program for the state’s landowners and businesses.

Additionally, as one study author wrote in a Forbes commentary last week, “such a framework would reduce cash flows by 31% to 46% over the next five decades, and tax revenues would decline by millions of dollars each day.”

There are no silver linings in an FSC-only world.

It’s clear — to academics and impartial observers, at least — that LEED’s timber mandate is bad for Oregon’s economy and jobs market.

Because such a negligible percentage of Oregon’s forests are FSC-approved, it’s likely timber would have be shipped from out of state or even overseas, where FSC’s standards are more relaxed, which necessarily means a greater carbon footprint than local sourcing.

Environmentalists say they want to lessen carbon footprints. But the FSC-SFI anecdote suggests their goal is to simply punish those with ideological differences. Kiss the ring, or pay the price.

Oregon, which lays claim to fully one-tenth of the Pacific Northwest’s forests, doesn’t have to lose jobs because of a certification monopoly. And it doesn’t have to be beholden to Big Green’s whims. For taxpayers, it’s deeply encouraging that our elected officials and bureaucrats are finally realizing this too.

David Williams is the president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance

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David Williams