States Fight Green-Building Leader Over Local Wood

By Russ Bynum

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – A building supplier phoned Pollard Lumber Co. about providing wood for a large government construction project in Georgia, but the deal broke down over a single question about how the family-owned sawmill has committed itself to environmentally friendly practices.

The mill in rural Appling holds certification by a national forestry group to verify it uses timber harvested in a sustainable manner. That wasn’t good enough to get the government job two years ago. The contractor wanted wood that would earn points toward recognition by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, the No. 1 rating system for green building. And LEED holds timber producers to a high standard met by few in the Southeast.

“For the people that I was dealing with, the nearest mill that was certified at that point was in Arkansas or Mississippi,” said Bert Pollard, chief forester at the Georgia lumber company that employs about 150 workers.

“We could have produced the lumber for them right then.”

LEED has been at the forefront of an explosion in energy-efficient, environmentally conscious construction over the past decade. Administered by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED program puts its stamp on an estimated 1.5 million square feet of new construction worldwide each day. But the program is facing an outcry from a growing number of governors and legislatures who say LEED uses unfair standards
that effectively keep their states’ timber growers out of the booming green-building market.

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal last year used an executive order to ban state government construction projects from seeking LEED certification. Alabama, Maine and Mississippi also enacted bans, while a similar measure has passed the North Carolina House and awaits a Senate vote. South Carolina stopped short of prohibiting LEED certification, instead banning state projects from earning points for sustainable wood. Florida passed a bill, awaiting the governor’s signature, requiring use of local wood when possible.

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