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Taxpayers' Group Targets Federal Government's Use of LEED

Saying it aims to reduce government waste, a group requests emails sent between GSA and USGBC.

By Paula Melton

This article originally appeared on BuildingGreen.com.

February 14, 2013

A think tank and lobbying group called the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has requested nine years’ worth of emails between the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), creator of the LEED rating systems. TPA president David Williams, who claims a recent series of articles about LEED in USA Today piqued his curiosity, says he intends to find out “if there was any coordination” between GSA and USGBC when the agency endorsed LEED as the green building certification of choice for federal buildings.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-funded retrofit of the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland is expected to receive a LEED Gold certification.
Photo © Jeremy Bittermann/Bittermann Photography
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-funded retrofit of the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland is expected to receive a LEED Gold certification.
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The group is likely to be disappointed, says Lane Burt, USGBC’s director of technical policy, adding that USGBC staff members correspond regularly with GSA staff members. During the certification process, “there’s a lot of back and forth between USGBC, design teams, and owners,” he explains. “Probably from most people’s perspective, it’s a lot of pretty inane technical information. That’s what they’re going to find.”

During its congressionally mandated reviews of green building rating systems, GSA also corresponds with all the organizations whose certifications are analyzed, Burt notes. “They reach out to us in the context of reaching out to everybody,” he explains. “That’s already on the record.”

Williams says he isn’t satisfied with the amount of information that’s already publicly available, though. When a final rule or recommendation is published, “it’s kind of scrubbed,” he asserts. “Behind every final regulation, there’s thousands of pages that we don’t necessarily get to see without asking for it.”

He says he had no plans, though, to file similar requests for email correspondence between GSA and the Green Building Initiative (creator of Green Globes) or the International Living Future Institute (creator of the Living Building Challenge), both of whose rating systems are also being analyzed as part of GSA’s current review process. “That was the first I had heard” of the other two organizations, claims Williams, who has accused USGBC of having a “taxpayer monopoly.”

Nonsense, Burt contends. “It’s not true. We don’t have a monopoly. Some agencies use LEED; some use other things; some don’t use anything at all. Even GSA has certified buildings with other rating systems.”

Burt also argues that multiple studies, including GSA’s August 2011 evaluation (PDF) of 22 buildings’ actual performance, suggest that LEED certification is a wise investment of taxpayer dollars. That study found that GSA’s LEED Gold buildings use 27 percent less energy than the national average and cost 34 percent less to operate. “The value of LEED for the federal government or for anyone in the private sector is to ensure that you got what you paid for,” he says. “I think the only story involving taxpayers and green building is the one about taxpayer savings.”

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