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Optics Over Substance Wins Out in Arlington County

The Arlington Sun Gazette reported last week that "Arlington, state find themselves near top of rankings in LEED buildings."

According to the Sun Gazette:

"Virginia now ranks eighth nationally in the square footage of environmentally friendly LEED-certified buildings on a per-capita basis, and Arlington is responsible for more than one in six of those square feet.

"Arlington had a cumulative total of 3.15 million square feet of space certified through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council through 2016, according to officials of the county’s Department of Environmental Services.

"That’s 17 percent of Virginia’s tally of 18.4 million square feet, reported in a ranking by the Green Building Council on Jan. 25.

“Virginia has been a phenomenal trailblazer in green building and LEED certifications, and is leading the way toward a more sustainable future for generations to come,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of the Green Building Council."

Unfortunately, taxpayers may not benefit much from all of those LEED certifications. In a May 8, 2014 op-ed in US News & World Report, Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union, urged policymakers "to take a hard look at LEED certification standards." He asked:

" . . . is LEED truly delivering the ecological benefits and cost-saving energy efficiencies that it promised? Are the assumptions behind LEED, the particular choices that supposedly should be made on behalf of a greener footprint, supported by the best available facts? These questions are being asked with increasing legitimacy, not to mention urgency.

"One recent example is an investigation of the District of Columbia government’s mandate that all new public buildings meet LEED’s “silver” standard or better (and that public as well as privately-owned facilities disclose energy usage). A sampling of buildings in the District conducted by the Washington Examiner turned up some results that offer pause to economy-minded citizens. Using the Energy Star efficiency system, the median score for LEED-certified structures (28.5 out of 100) was “insignificantly higher” than that of conventional ones (26.5).

"Interestingly, the District’s own Department of Environment expressed reservations in a separate assessment of the mandated program, noting that it reflects “dependence on a third-party organization [USGBC], over which the government has no oversight, to set … green building standards.”

"Ultimately, D.C. taxpayers may not be realizing the energy savings touted by their leaders when they imposed LEED on government construction, but there’s little incentive to reconsider the scheme, because the District has reaped about $5.2 million in permit fees since the initiative began about four years ago."

"Besides the District of Columbia, several hundred municipalities have written LEED into their codes for regulatory or tax-credit purposes, and the outcome for taxpayers has been far from uniformly promising. As far back as 2009, The New York Times was reporting on structures with LEED status that were “not living up to” the coveted label. A study of New York properties conducted last year by Oberlin College Professor John Scofield suggested that “LEED building certification is not moving NYC toward its goal of climate neutrality.”

"Fortunately, the federal government has not issued its own edict that LEED be implemented among private-sector builders nationwide, but America’s taxpayers are not necessarily off the hook. The U.S. General Services Administration has required that all of its new federal buildings and renovations meet the LEED criteria, potentially piling millions in upfront expenses onto many projects. In fact, it estimates that the certification process alone for LEED (exclusive of actual construction) can tack on tens of thousands in additional taxpayer costs to every project.

"Would taxpayers eventually recover the higher investment from LEED over time, due to reduced energy consumption? The experience so far suggests mixed outcomes at best. One study of 11 Navy facilities, for example, determined that four LEED buildings performed more poorly on energy savings tests than non-certified structures; four others had only slightly better performance."

Even property owners of these so-called "green" buildings may not benefit from their LEED certifications. In the July 28, 2013 issue of New Republic, Sam Roudman wrote:

"When the Bank of America Tower opened in 2010, the press praised it as one of the world’s “most environmentally responsible high-rise office building[s].” It wasn’t just the waterless urinals, daylight dimming controls, and rainwater harvesting. And it wasn’t only the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification—the first ever for a skyscraper—and the $947,583 in incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. It also had as a tenant the environmental movement’s biggest celebrity. The Bank of America Tower had Al Gore."

Finally, the Washington Examiner's Luke Rosiak reported on October 28, 2013 that an analysis showed "LEED certification doesn't guarantee energy efficiency." and wrote about the analysis of New York buildings showed:

"Half of all New York office buildings used 74.2 kBtus per gross square foot or more, New York's data showed. Of buildings that were LEED-certified, half used 82.4 or more — meaning LEED-certified buildings actually performed worse than buildings in general, according to the Examiner analysis.

"The MetLife building, for example, received LEED gold certification less than a year ago. But data released this month reveal that its greenhouse gas emissions in tons of carbon dioxide per square foot rank the facility among the worst in all of New York, making it the 113th most-polluting office building out of 1,170."

We growled on March 14, 2009 that the Arlington County Board "kowtows to the enviro-statists." Earlier that day, "the Arlington County Board approved greater incentives (see the "Board Report for item #24 on the agenda) for “building green,” meaning the the county will offer “greater bonus density for higher levels of environmental sustainability." It's amazing that while the Left despises corporations and the wealthy, they are only to ready to enrich their real estate developers.

More critically, what is the cost to taxpayers of such "smart growth" or "green building" development? In a working paper published October 21, 2014 by George Mason University's Mercatus Center, Michael Lewyn and Kristoffer Jackson point out:

"However, green certification may impose short-run costs on developers and taxpayers. One law review article estimates that LEED certification, the most widely used form of green certification, adds between four and eleven percent to total construction costs. Therefore, if a city requires such certification and its suburbs do not, development in the city could become more expensive, thus increasing the incentives for developers and their customers to do business in suburbia."

Sure makes you wonder just how much of Arlington County's nearly 20% commercial property vacancy rate is the result of the Arlington County Board's enviro-statist or so-called smart growth policies. Or whether all that bonus density the County Board dishes out does nothing but make the county a less desirable, and more costly, place to live. If you have a comment or question about Arlington County's LEED's or smart growth policies, take a few minutes to ask your question(s) or make your opinion known to the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130.

And tell them ACTA sent you.

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