Military Green Growth Offset By Congress

You can add green building advocates to the list of people who have a gripe with the National Defense Authorization Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law on New Year’s Eve (despite his own reservations). The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) funding bill has come under scathing criticism from civil liberties and human rights organizations for its provisions concerning the detention of military combatants, but it also contains a provision that makes it more complicated – although not impossible – for the military to pursue high-level LEED certifications for its buildings.

As noted by the Federal Times, a section of the law states, “No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2012 may be obligated or expended for achieving any LEED gold or platinum certification.” But a clause to that provision does allow such certifications “if achieving such certification imposes no additional cost to the Department of Defense.” And the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which runs the LEED programs, thinks that’s a loophole the military can drive a Humvee through, albeit with some careful navigation.

LEED, U.S. Department of Defense

image via U.S. Department of Defense

“DOD can still LEED certify to Gold and Platinum levels if there is no additional cost or they document a positive return on investment, which they have done and will continue to do,” blogged Bryan Howard, the council’s legislative director, after Congress passed the bill. “For example, earlier this year, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that new Navy and Marine Corps buildings would attain a LEED Gold certification level beginning FY 2013 and would do so at no additional cost.”

According to Howard, the Defense Department “was one of the earliest users of LEED and has the largest number of LEED-registered and certified buildings owned or occupied by any federal agency.” Howard pointed to a 2009 Pentagon study that showed that in pursuing LEED standards, the department’s “energy use per square foot declined by 10 percent and total water consumption decreased by 4.6 percent, in spite of increased military operations.”

Another provision of the new law requires the Pentagon to report to Congress on the cost-effectiveness of LEED certifications and other building standards – but that’s a provision Howard said the USGBC fully endorses, believing it will confirm earlier studies that showed the certifications reduce operating costs.

The U.S. military has, in many ways, been at the forefront of green growth in the country at a time when the government is at a logjam on decisive clean energy action. We’ve reported multiple times on the military’s push into renewable energy. Will Congress next move to try and control the military’s energy decisions this year as well in the name of cost savings?

This might be the case, but it could also be something as simple as a dispute about which certifying organizations — and the standards they use — are going to get get federal business. Either way, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.