Plastic People are at it again, sneaking LEED-bashing clause into appropriations bill

trojan horse
Public Domain Trojan Horse

It's another Trojan Horse from the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition, the collection of plastic and chemical industry lobbyists who don't like the fact that the LEED building certification system would dare suggest that perhaps some of their products don't belong in green building. (because LEED doesn't ban any of them). Now they have slipped wording into the FY2014 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that was passed by the House yesterday:

None of the funds made available under this heading may be obligated or expended to implement or use green building rating standards for new construction or prospectus level renovations unless such standards are voluntary consensus standards, as that term is defined in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119.

So what's a voluntary consensus standard?

The coalition and the vinyl floor people don't think LEED is one. They told the GSA last year:

GSA should endorse only green building certification systems that are developed through fully open, balanced, consensus-based processes,” said Richard Doyle, president and CEO of the Vinyl Institute. “We believe the process for the development of LEED is flawed: the actual credit development phase is not open, transparent, or available for participation to all interested stakeholders. Without the changes that are needed to give LEED more daylight, GSA should not endorse LEED as part of its recommended federal green building certification system.

The USGBC doesn't agree.

LEED is extremely inclusive in its consensus‐based decision‐making. After the draft is released for public comment, it is open to all stakeholders, regardless of their affiliation with USGBC. These comments are collected and responded to individually and publicly. To date,the most recent version of LEED has had six public comment periods and received more than 22,000 comments from stakeholders across all sectors of the green building industry.

Once the comment process is complete, the draft is subject to a ballot of participating members. To be accepted as a new version of LEED,the draft must receive and overwhelming consensus: ‘yes’ votes from 66 percent of the voting members. In addition, the draft must be approved by more than 50 percent in subcategories designed to ensure no stakeholder groups are given special weight or excluded.

It seems that the GSA sides with LEED; Paula Melton points out,

In its recent review of rating systems, GSA noted that LEED was not an ANSI standard but concluded that LEED was developed according to a rigorously transparent consensus process according to on its own definition:

The certification system contains the attributes of a voluntary consensus standards body defined in OMB Circular A-119: openness, balance of interest, due process, an appeal process, and consensus.

The plastic people keep droning on that only systems "developed in conformance with full American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or International Organization for Standardization (ISO) – type consensus processes, are data-driven, supported by science, and performance-based." But that doesn't appear to true, there are lots of recognized standards that are not ANSI, including big names like Energy Star. So why are they so excited about this amendment, saying:

Today’s House Appropriations Subcommittee bill that requires voluntary consensus green building standards is a significant step towards achieving our national green building goals. Our coalition is encouraged by the ongoing congressional activity to require green building ratings systems to be true, affirmed consensus standards.”

Maybe it's buried in OMB Circular A-119.

So I read the thing, PDF here. Key paragraphs:

Voluntary consensus standards bodies are domestic or international organizations which plan, develop, establish, or coordinate voluntary consensus standards using agreed-upon procedures.....A voluntary consensus standards body is defined by the following attributes:
(i) Openness.
(ii) Balance of interest.
(iii) Due process.
(vi) An appeals process.
(v) Consensus, which is defined as general agreement, but not necessarily unanimity, and includes a process for attempting to resolve objections by interested parties, as long as all comments have been fairly considered, each objector is advised of the disposition of his or her objection(s) and the reasons why, and the consensus body members are given an opportunity to change their votes after reviewing the comments.

b. Other types of standards, which are distinct from voluntary consensus standards, are the following:
(1) “Non-consensus standards,” “Industry standards,” “Company standards,” or “de facto standards,” which are developed in the private sector but not in the full consensus process.

One source I talked to thought that there was perhaps something in the wording of Clause V, the "opportunity to change their votes after reviewing the comments." I wonder if they are going to try and nail LEED as an Industry Standard as opposed to a bigger tent that includes the petrochemical, plastic, vinyl, and other chemical manufacturers that make up the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition, which happens to belong to the Green Building Initiative that runs the ANSI- certified Green Globes system.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, something is happening here, and I don't know what it is. The plastic people seem to think they have something in their little amendment that got approved by the House; hopefully someone somewhere will explain why it is so important before the whole bill is passed. I welcome comments from those who can add anything to this incomplete and confused post.

Tags: Green Building | LEED | Plastics

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