The chemical and timber industries are working across the country to eliminate energy efficiency standards modeled on the latest version of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the industry standard that is used in over 3.3 billion square feet of building space.

Three states have already weakened LEED energy efficiency standards and at least seven others are considering legislation that would essentially gut LEED standards.

 Ohio Bill Written by Chemical Industry

The Columbus Dispatch reported on legislation that passed through the State Senate in February:

Records show that the initial push came last October from a lobbyist, Tom Niehaus, the former [State] Senate president. Among his clients is the American Chemistry Council, a national trade group that has fought the latest version of LEED standards in many venues because the rules could limit the use of certain chemicals in building materials.

Niehaus emailed Sen. Joe Uecker, R-Loveland, with suggested wording of the resolution, according to documents obtained through a records request by the Energy & Policy Institute, a clean-energy advocacy and research group. Soon after, Uecker introduced the measure with only minor changes.

Our records request revealed that two weeks before Senator Joe Uecker introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 (SCR25), Niehaus (pictured left) provided a sample resolution via email to Uecker. In a side-by-side comparison of the two bills, we found that each paragraph of the ACC’s model bill was mimicked or simply copied word-for-word in the drafting of SCR 25.

In addition to providing legislative language, Neihaus provided talking points for the Senator’s testimony on the bill, potential questions for opponents of the pro-chemistry industry bill, and background documents written by ACC staff and consultants attacking LEED green building standards. (See the email that includes questions for opponents and background and talking points provided by chemical industry lobbyist)

Furthermore, Neihaus directly lobbied Senator Uecker, “tak[ing] him to dinner” and talking “with Sen. Uecker and Liz Connolly [the Majority Caucus’ Deputy Chief of Staff] about our strategy to move this quickly.” (Read the original email here)

SCR 25 is an American Chemistry Council-written bill that would benefit the chemical industry and weaken green building standards in Ohio. While it passed the State Senate, it has not yet been considered in the Ohio House of Representatives.


Other States Targeted by Timber Industry 

The timber industry has successfully weakened LEED green building standards in other states.

In Maine, Governor Paul LePage signed an executive order stating “any new or expanded state building shall incorporate “Green Building” standards that give credits equally to forest products grown, manufactured, and certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council, American Tree Farm System, and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification systems.” LEED standards recognize wood and paper products certified with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), based on the FSC’s comprehensive standards for sustainable forestry products. BuildingGreen.com reported that Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) confirmed that SFI lobbied in Maine regarding LEED’s preference for FSC certified wood, and it is clear SFI was ultimately successful when LePage signed the executive order in December 2011. Energy and Policy Institute’s freedom of information request uncovered a trail of communications between SFI and the Governor’s office, including a meeting with Governor Paul LePage before the Executive Order was finalized. (Read the documents here: [1][2][3]).

In Georgia, Governor Nathaniel Deal signed an executive order almost identical to LePage’s order in Maine. The executive order dated August 10, 2012 stated that “any new or expanded state building shall incorporate “Green Building” standards that give certification credits equally to forest products grown, manufactured, and certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the American Tree Farm System, and the Forest Stewardship Council.”

In Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley signed Executive Order 39 on April 11, 2013, stating, “any new or expanded state building that incorporates “green building standards must give certification credits equally to forest products grown, manufactured, and certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the American Tree Farm System, and the Forest Stewardship Council…”

Finally, in Mississippi, House Bill 488 sponsored by Representative Thomas Reynolds and signed by Governor Phil Bryant on March 20, 2013 states “any such rating system that sues a material or product-based credit system which is disadvantageous to materials or products manufactured or produced in Mississippi shall not be utilized. Additionally, such rating systems shall not exclude certificate credits for forest products certified by the Sustainable forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council, or the American Tree Farm System.”

Each of these (nearly identical) efforts weaken incentives for using sustainable forestry products certified under LEED standards and effectively outlaws the use of LEED standards because LEED gives credits to FSC-certified sustainable materials.


Timber/Chemical Industry Lobbies Against LEED In Other States

The timber and chemical industry is also working to weaken or eliminate LEED green building standards in Ohio, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Washington.

State Bill Number Year Sponsors Backed By
Ohio SCR 25 2013 Uecker, Schaffer, Coley, Hite Chemical Industry
North Carolina HB 628 2013 Presnell, Catlin Timber Industry
Florida HB 269 2013 Keahey, Whatley Timber Industry
Alabama SB 152 2014 Beshears Timber Industry
Louisiana HB 1067 2014 Lambert Timber Industry
South Carolina HB 3592 2014 Sandifer, Loftis Chemical and Timber Industry
Washington SB 6341 2014 Hargrove, Schoesler Timber Industry

While these bills have not yet been successful, special interests from the timber and chemical companies will likely continue pushing in the next legislative cycle for changes that negatively impact green building and energy efficiency standards.

Posted by Gabe Elsner

Gabe Elsner is the founder and executive director of the Energy & Policy Institute. He is a thought leader on defending policies from attacks by incumbent energy interests and his work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Daily Mail, The Australian, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, and National Public Radio. The Energy & Policy Institute’s work has protected dozens of public policies that support the growth of the clean-tech industry.

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