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July 29th, 2013 3:54 pm
Another New Study Shows Destructive Impact of LEED Standard on Jobs, Domestic Timber Industry
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All too often, cowed policymakers throughout the U.S. blindly accept the assertions and demands of environmental extremists as somehow representing mainstream opinion or scientific fact.  With the new LEED v4 standards approved earlier this month by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) providing the latest example, it’s time for those policymakers to finally apply scrutiny to LEED and how it continues to negatively affect our domestic timber industry.

As we’ve documented before, LEED standards institutionalize a destructive bias against the vast majority of American timber, which receives certification by alternative systems.

Unfortunately, too many members of the public also associate LEED with “green” without serious thought.  But as we noted, LEED has the effect of raising the prices of timber, reducing consumer choices, threatening jobs and growth and favoring overseas competitors at the expense of domestic businesses.  The market gets distorted without yielding any corresponding environmental benefits.

Even though it has been “rebranded,” the folly of LEED remains its preferences for timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  Its “leadership extraction practices” credit is only eligible for those using “wood products [that] must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or USGBC-approved equivalent.”  Builders that use FSC timber are more likely to enter LEED building projects than others.

The problem for our domestic timber industry is that 90% of FSC timber comes from abroad.  Policies that enforce LEED therefore increase the chances of foreign wood entering American building markets than would normally be the case under a true free-market in which FSC-certified products compete on a level playing field with Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS)-certified materials.    The combined SFI and ATFS-certified forestland in the U.S. outnumbers that of FSC by millions of acres, so a pro-FSC framework automatically disadvantages a majority of Americans in the forest products industry in order to benefit a much smaller minority.

Moreover, the financial costs of this FSC-centric framework are considerable for American consumers, our broader economy, and the environment.  For example, FSC wood costs 15-20% more than other types of timber, according to numerous estimates.  The American Consumer Institute (ACI) estimated that making FSC-certification a binding requirement for American forests leads to $10 billion in annual consumer welfare losses for wood products.  Another recent study by EconoSTATS similarly determined that mandatory FSC standards would lead to 41,000 job losses in Oregon and Arkansas alone.  And in ecological terms, importing lumber from countries such as Brazil and Russia, where FSC is active, entails significant transportation costs.  FSC also enforces lower standards for certification in those countries, and many Asian and South American nations lack environmental safeguards that are taken for granted in the U.S.

In effect, the FSC framework displaces high-quality domestic lumber for foreign wood harvested under questionable circumstances.

While the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) ignored the input of hundreds of local, state and federal officials, conservationists, small and large businesses and academics who called for a revision to LEED’s treatment of domestic timber, a number of states are taking action on their own.  In the last few years, Maine, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee have taken steps to nullify or mitigate the negative effects of LEED.  Through legislation and executive orders, these states are opening up building markets to larger amounts of timber certified by credible standards like ATFS and SFI.

The more states that follow in their footsteps, the better.

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