US chemical officials object to green building rules monopoly

25 June 2012 23:23  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US chemical industry officials on Monday raised objections to developing federal policy on “green building” criteria, arguing that government endorsement of a single standard could restrict use of many chemicals and resins.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) told a hearing before the US General Services Administration (GSA) that the agency’s plan to focus on a single set of green building recommendations is “fatally flawed”.

Often described as the US federal government’s landlord, the GSA provides and manages thousands of office buildings, warehouses, maintenance facilities and other real estate for federal agencies nationwide. 

The vast agency, which has recently come under fire for broad waste of taxpayer funds, also provides communications, transportation and office products under multi-billion dollar contracts.

As required every five years by law, for the last year GSA has been reviewing green building certification systems to find those “most likely to encourage a comprehensive and environmentally sound approach to certification of green buildings”.

But ACC plastics markets managing director Keith Christman told the GSA hearing that the agency’s review of two green building rating systems had “serious limitations” because it “offers only a cursory examination of the green building rating systems” under consideration.

GSA was reviewing building construction, materials, efficiency and operations standards put forward by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and the International Living Building Institute (ILBI), both private organisations.

Christman charged that by endorsing the USGBC’s standards, known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the federal government was unfairly granting a monopoly to one standards group.

The decision by GSA to endorse any one green building standards system could have broad impact on US construction, materials selection and manufacturing, because while GSA decisions technically apply only to federal buildings, the agency’s policies influence the private sector as well.

Christman said that neither the LEED system or the ILBI plan “actually meets all the federal requirements outlined” in the 2007 law that mandated the green building standards review.

In addition, “no one green building system meets all the federal requirements”, he said, and “there is no basis for the continued monopoly for LEED within the federal government”.

Christman said that GSA’s standards review “merely accepts USGBC’s claim to be consensus-based without critical review”.

“Numerous, substantial stakeholder groups in building and construction, as well as members of Congress, have argued that LEED standards are not consensus-based,” he added.

Instead, Christman urged the agency to consider other standards, such as the International Green Construction Code (IGCC), which he said is consensus-based.

The council cautioned that an uncritical standards selection by GSA could cause "restrictions of chemical substances essential to many of the very products that contribute to energy efficiency".

Asked whether the council might take legal action to contest GSA's green building standards selection, ACC spokeswoman Marie Francis said that "We're working through the GSA public comment process, and that is just beginning".

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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