Judge Dismisses Gifford Claims Against USGBC, But Energy Efficiency of LEED Buildings Unresolved

Yesterday, Judge Sands dismissed Henry Gifford's suit against the USGBC.  A copy of the Order is available here.  In a major win for the USGBC, Judge Sands dismissed Gifford, et al's Federal claims with prejudice, which means they cannot be brought again, Because the Federal claims were dismissed, the Judge also dismissed Gifford, et al's state claims for lack of jurisdiction. 

Particularly gratifying for me is that Judge Sands dismissed the case for exactly the reason I anticipated in my prior posts on the case that the plaintiff in this case lacked standing to bring the case.  The posts are available here and here.

In summary:

To the best of my research, Mr. Gifford is not a LEED AP, and indeed, from his website and publications, he has outspokenly denounced the USGBC and LEED.  Mr. Gifford does not appear to own any property certified LEED.  In short--the USGBC's actions have not harmed him or his career, if anything, has been enhanced by the USGBC's position.

Similarly Judge Sands held:

With the exception of Gifford,  each Plaintiff designs and consults on specific elements of individual buildings, including heating and cooling systems, moisture and mold remediation, and architectural design. Plaintiffs do not allege that LEED certified buildings do not require such services or that those services must be provided by a LEED-accredited professional in order to attain certification. Because there is no requirement that a builder hire LEED-accredited professionals at any level, let alone every level, to attain LEED certification, it is not plausible that each customer who opts for LEED certification is a customer lost to Plaintiffs.

With respect to Gifford's Lanham Act "False Advertising" claim, I wrote:

In alleging a violation of the Lanham Act, the Federal act prohibiting false advertising, the Amended Complaint states: USGBC's misrepresentations have an will continue to deceive consumers, voters, taxpayers, developers, municipalities and legislators at the local, state and federal levels. However, fraud requires "reasonable reliance" on the false statements. The difficulty here is that, although more plaintiffs have been added, they are still not plaintiffs that were "duped" by the USGBC's representations. Judge Sands concluded that the USGBC and Gifford, et al are not competitors:

 Judge Sands similarly held that Gifford, et al cannot prove reliance:

Even if Plaintiffs were to amend the [First Amended Complaint]  to include the proffered allegation that a single developer, Steve Bluestone, chose a LEED certified consultant rather than Gifford, Plaintiffs would not establish the required causal nexus: that Bluestone did so in reliance on the alleged false statement contained in a 2008 press release.

This order may not be the end of the Gifford v. USGBC story.  Gifford may appeal, and he retains the opportunity to file his state claims in New York state court.  Moreover, since the Judge did not resolve the merits of the claims, the debate over whether LEED buildings save energy is likely to rage on.

New Mexico Court Strikes Down Surcharge For Revenue Lost To Energy Efficiency

Utilities are often dismissed or ignored in most discussions of energy efficiency and green building  I find this quite remarkable.  First, many state laws mandate that utilities engage in energy efficiency efforts.  Second, as utilities are directly connected to the energy consumer, utilities are often n the best place to advocate for energy efficiency and deliver energy efficiency programs.

The problem is that utilities are not usually incentivized, and are often disincentivized, from promoting energy effiiciency.  Historically, utilities have made money by selling electricity or natural gas, and recovering a return on their sales and investment in infrastructure from ratepayers.  The trouble with this scenario is that it does little to incentivize utilities to promote energy efficiency.  If the utility promotes conservation, thus selling less energy and reducing investment in infrastructure, they will make less money.   

Some energy efficiency advocates are beginning to promote different utility rate structures which pay the utilities for the lost revenue attributable to energy efficiency, so that the utilities are made whole for thheir investment. An article on energy efficient rate making is available here.

These new rate structures are not without their challenges.  For example, the Public Regulation Commission of New Mexico put in place a rate scheme which allowed utilities to collect one cent for each kilowatt hour of electricity that was saved through energy efficiency programs.  The average increase on a residential customer was 17 cents a month. 

On August 3, the New Mexico Supreme Court struck down the surcharge, holding:

The PRC did not inquire into any of the utilities’ revenue requirements, nor any of
the traditional elements of the ratemaking process. At the evidentiary hearing, the utilities merely presented evidence on what the impact of [the surcharge] would be. Without inquiring into a utility’s revenue requirements, we fail to see how the PRC could adequately balance the investors’ interests against the ratepayers’ interests when adopting [the surcharge]. The PRC’s adoption of the adder rates was arbitrary and unlawful in that they were not evidence based, cost-based, nor utility specific.

The full opinion is available here.

Energy efficiency advocates seeking to use utility ratemaking as a mechanism for promoting energy efficiency must pay careful attention to ratemaking regulations, and realize that attempts to change the historical rate structures will face opposition from many sides, including consumer advocates.