Chemical makers bristle at building standards, say new rules will cost jobs

Chemical makers are bristling at proposed green building standards that they feel unfairly target their products.

Major business groups are lobbying lawmakers to take a look at the proposed standards from the U.S. Green Building Council, warning jobs will be lost if they are embraced by the federal government.

ADVERTISEMENT
Keith Christman, managing director for plastic markets at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), said manufacturers and suppliers could take a hit if the General Services Administration (GSA) uses the council’s revised standards to certify federal offices as having “gone green.”

“GSA has in effect established a monopoly for the U.S. Green Building Council,” Christman said. “Now, the Green Building Council has had a dramatic departure from encouraging people to make energy-efficient buildings to encouraging them to avoid materials that are used in energy-efficient buildings.”

At issue are proposed changes to the council’s green building standards, known as LEED 2012 or LEED v4. Companies in the chemical industry argue the new standards will encourage builders to avoid certain  materials — some of which go into roofing, piping and vinyl siding — to earn a green building certification.
Christman said jobs are at stake.

“Clearly, the building construction sector is very fragile today,” he said. “These standards would cause people to avoid these materials, create uncertainty in the market and affect the makers of these materials used in energy-efficient buildings.”

The council rejects the charge that the new standards would be harmful to the economy.

“We are trying to set a low bar to encourage people to buy materials that have been well-documented in what ingredients make up the materials and their health impact,” said Lane Burt, policy director for the Green Building Council. “It’s very far-fetched to say that LEED is going to have any kind of detrimental impact on jobs.”

The council has delayed a final vote on the LEED v4 standards by its more than 15,000 members until June 2013 to give builders more time to adjust to the changes. Burt said the proposal might change again before then after already having gone through several drafts, possibly lessening the ire of chemical makers.

“It’s certainly not set in stone and the process is still ongoing,” Burt said. “The lobbying around this has certainly been unfortunate.”

Burt said an “incredibly democratic” process has been used to develop the standards, noting they have received 22,000 public comments so far and have been opened up again for a fifth comment period.

Lawmakers have started to take an interest in the dispute.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) helped gather signatures from 55 other House lawmakers for a bipartisan letter that took issue with the changes. That letter, sent on May 18 to acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, said the agency should consider not using the Green Building Council’s LEED rating system if the proposed changes take effect.

Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.) gathered signatures from 16 other senators for a similar letter that was sent June 12 to Tangherlini.

“We believe that the federal government should not base its choices on arbitrary restrictions that may not allow for the use of the most effective materials, especially when the rejection of these materials would mean the loss of jobs and economic growth at a time our country can least afford it,” the Senate letter said.

Several business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the ACC, signed onto a May 8 letter to Rep.

Paul Broun (R-Ga.) that took issue with the council’s proposed changes.

Congressional aides from both chambers said specific legislation targeting the green standards has not been introduced yet, though it remains an option.

The Green Building Council has started to fight back. The nonprofit group on Tuesday wrote to the senators who signed onto Landrieu and Vitter’s letter, taking aim at “some industry trade associations [that] have deployed false rhetoric about job losses, chemical bans and high costs to the taxpayer.”

“LEED v4 will not ban any chemicals or products. LEED v4 utilizes private‐market incentives to reward companies that produce more transparent, well-documented building materials. There is no ‘red list’ of banned chemicals,” the council’s letter said. “Furthermore, the materials credits contemplated for LEED v4 are completely voluntary.”

GSA is not currently evaluating LEED v4 since it has not been issued. Instead, the agency is evaluating LEED 2009 — the latest version of the standards — and two other certification systems as part of its regular review.

“As part of this review, there will be extensive opportunity for public comment and consultation with other agencies. GSA remains committed to making the federal government’s building portfolio more efficient to meet the goals of President Obama’s executive order and to save tax dollars,” said Dan Cruz, a GSA spokesman.

Nevertheless, the Green Building Council needs to drop its proposed changes, according to those in the chemical industry.

“The decision to halt the process was a step in the right direction. But halting the process is not a solution to the problem,” Christman said.