Home > posts > USA Today Analysis: “Green” Certification Means Big Tax Breaks for Builders, But Little Environmental Benefit
October 29th, 2012 2:20 pm
USA Today Analysis: “Green” Certification Means Big Tax Breaks for Builders, But Little Environmental Benefit
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Last week, RealClearPolicy.com graciously ran our commentary “End the USGBC Green Certification Monopoly,” in which we asserted that adopting the proposed LEEDv4 standard in its current incarnation as the new government-approved rule is unacceptable, and called for the era of the USGBC’s taxpayer-subsidized monopoly to come to an end.

Now, a damning USA Today analysis concludes that the certification regime allows thousands of “green” builders win tax breaks, exceed local restrictions and win expedited permits with meaningless, easy and low-cost steps:

Across the United States, the Green Building Council has helped thousands of developers win tax breaks and grants, charge higher rents, exceed local building restrictions and get expedited permitting by certifying them as ‘green’ under a system that often rewards minor, low-cost steps that have little or no proven environmental benefit, a USA TODAY analysis has found.

The council has certified 13,500 commercial buildings in the U.S. as green and become one of the most influential forces in building design by helping persuade public officials and private builders to follow its rating system, known as LEED.  More than 200 states, cities and federal agencies now require LEED certification for new public buildings, even though they have done little independent and meaningful research into LEED’s effectiveness. LEED can add millions to construction costs while promising to cut utility bills and other expenses.”

Importantly, the analysis also highlights the self-interest that often underlies such LEED advocacy:

There are now LEED-certified breweries, stadiums, dormitories, bus depots, parking garages, shopping malls, libraries, fire stations, warehouses, boathouses, locker rooms and prison buildings.  LEED’s growth has been driven partly by the building council itself, a 13,000-member non-profit chiefly run by architects, builders and building suppliers. Many specialize in — and profit from — the type of design the council certifies and promotes. The council collects up to $35,000 in fees for each LEED certification.  Building council members have boosted their own LEED-related businesses by helping persuade officials to require or reward LEED certification.  LEED also helps developers market buildings to tenants and investors and collect higher rents and sales prices, University of California economist Nils Kok said.

‘A lot of the fuel for LEED, to be honest, is marketing advantage,’ said Bill Walsh, executive director of the Healthy Building Network, which promotes non-toxic building materials. ‘People are interested in how they get the (LEED) credits, not in thinking deeply about it.'”

As one illustration, the study notes, “The most popular LEED option – earned in 99.7% of the buildings – has no direct environmental benefit but generates millions of dollars for the building council by giving one point if a design team has a LEED expert.”

In other words, government-facilitated, make-work cronyism at its worst.

This report merely confirms CFIF’s point:  LEEDv4 is an unacceptable government-imposed standard, the USGBC’s monopoly must end, the core mission of LEED must be reformed and the federal government must allow greater flexibility and the use of alternative green building certification systems.

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