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Green building bill still draws questions

By Paul Snyder

A bill that would mandate green building standards for public projects still faces resistance despite clearing the state Senate and Assembly.

The bills sponsor, state Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, said Monday he is discussing the proposal with officials from the Wisconsin Department of Administration and the University of Wisconsin System.

“There isn’t any waving a white flag of defeat,” Molepske said. “It’s going to be a change, and there are some people in the state set in their one particular way of doing design work.”

David Miller, UW System vice president of capital planning and budget, said only that the bill still needs review because it passed through the Legislature without a lot of advance notice.

“I’ve got architects, engineers and attorneys analyzing the bill,” he said.

Molepske said he is discussing the bill with Dan Schooff, DOA deputy secretary, and David Helbach, Building Commission secretary and administrator in the DOA’s Division of State Facilities.

Schooff and Helbach were unavailable Monday to comment.

The bill, passed last month by the Senate and Assembly, would require public buildings, additions or renovations of at least 10,000 square feet be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver standards. The bill would affect state, municipal and school district projects but allow certification from organizations other than the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED certification.

Molepske said the bill is not retroactive, so projects already designed but not yet built will not be required to meet green standards. But if Gov. Jim Doyle signs the bill, it immediately would take effect, Molepske said.

Representatives from Doyle’s office did not return calls for comment.

Doyle has until May 20 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, Molepske said.

“It’s DOA’s job to sift and winnow through these bills and recommend what the governor should sign,” he said. “It’s not like this is an average bill, but I’m confident that in addition to what DOA says, the governor will also have the legislative council available to explain the bill.”

A Doyle veto would disappoint the environmental lobby, said Shahla Werner, director of the Sierra Club’s John Muir Chapter.

“I’d heard there are still problems with the bill, but I feel like they amended it in good faith,” she said. “It’s not like it’s requiring every school to put solar panels on or do things whether or not it makes sense.”

But Mark Rossolo, vice president of operations for Portland-based Green Building Initiative, said state laws requiring project certification are a bad idea.

“Putting voluntary incentives into mandatory language is always going to present a problem,” he said, “because the state has absolutely no control over what USGBC or GBI do to initiatives in the future.”

Yet Molepske said it’s the “will of the people” to put the standards in place.

“If anything needs to be changed or updated in the future,” he said, “then, God willing, I’ll be there to take care of it.”

2 comments

  1. This bill is a major mistake for at least three reasons:

    1. We should never tie state law or policy to the standards of a private organization with no accountability to the people who have to comply with it. USGBC acts in its own interest…period. I am a LEED AP and have followed this group’s doings for years. They are just as money driven as any other business out there.

    2. The law allows for certification from other organizations than USGBC, but other organizations (like Green Globes) do not correlate with LEED standards. It is not an apples to apples comparison and will only create chaos in enforcing the new law.

    3. Who will verify that the new standards are being followed? USGBC will be ridiculously expensive and slow and will not oversee other groups’ standards. The existing staff at Wisconsin Department of Commerce who review for conformance with the state code already have their hands full with the IBC, ADA, COMcheck, ASHRAE and various “Wisconsinisms” modifying these codes. They cannot possibly learn several other “green” standards and be expected to review a project in a timely fashion.

    The only standards that make sense are the ones already in place for energy conservation. We should keep USGBC’s social engineering agenda (pro global warming / anti-automobile) on the political fringe where it belongs rather than throw the design / construction industry into an even deeper recession.

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