Timber interests pitted against green builders
Posted May 8, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — An effort to make sure state-funded building projects can use North Carolina lumber could undermine the use of LEED certification for green building projects, opponents of the measure say.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to encourage builders to use energy-efficient designs and materials. Certifications under LEED are based on a points system. Using sustainably farmed lumber is a factor in that points system.
The problem with that, according to Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Yancey, is that very few acres in North Carolina have been designated as sustainably farmed in a way recognized by LEED. That means North Carolina timber companies are at a disadvantage when trying to sell lumber to state projects aspiring to a LEED certification.
House Bill 628 says that no taxpayer-funded project can use a green building system, such as LEED, if the use of North Carolina lumber is scored unfavorably compared with lumber from other sources.
The House gave the measure tentative approval Wednesday. A second vote is needed before the measure crosses to the Senate.
"This bill would put North Carolina wood products on an even playing field," Presnell said.
But opponents of the measure said that it could undermine LEED construction in North Carolina.
"This will negatively impact the green building industry," said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford.
When the bill was first introduced, backers anticipated that it would be a study bill, something that would be considered between now and the legislative session that starts in May 2014.
However, as the measure moved froward, it was re-drafted to become effective upon passage.
That, said Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, prompted lawmakers' email boxes to "blow up" with concerns from employers and other around the state.
"Whether you like LEED or not, there are a whole heck of a lot of jobs tied to it," Samuelson said. In particular, steel manufacturer Nucor is concerned that the bill could undermine a large part of its business, she said.
"We may lose more jobs than are created in the forestry industry," Samuelson argued. She pushed for an amendment to delay the effective date of the bill, which failed on a 58-53 vote.
Other lawmakers say they aren't sure that the impact on LEED would be as dire as Samuelson described or as negligible as Presnell said.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said there may be a way to change the bill to satisfy both camps, adding that he hoped that "cooler minds will come together" when the bill is debated a second time on Thursday.