DOE Issues Final Rule on Federal Green Building Standards

The Federal government has long been a leader in constructing green buildings, and LEED has been the Federal standard of choice. The Department of Energy issued a final rule updating its recommended certification standards and levels for all Federal buildings on October 14, 2014. 

The Final Rule does not tell Agencies which rating system to use.  Rather, if the Agency chooses to use a rating system, such system must meet the following characteristics:

  1. Allow assessors and auditors to independently verify the criteria and measurement metrics of the system;
  2. Be developed by a certification organization that (i) provides an opportunity for public comment on the system, (ii) provides an opportunity for development and revision of the system through a consensus-based process;
  3. Be nationally recognized within the building industry;
  4. Be subject to periodic evaluation and assessment of the environmental and energy benefits that result under the rating system; and 
  5. Include a verification system for post occupancy assessment of the rated buildings to demonstrate continued energy and water savings at least every four years after initial occupancy. 

Sounds a lot like LEED or Green Globes to me, so unless something else comes into the marketplace, Federal buildings are likely to use the LEED standard.

The DOE's rule is based, at least in part, on a General Services Administration (GSA) report on green building rating systems issued on October 25, 2013, and available here.  The GSA recommended LEED-2009 Silver or 2 Green Globes v 2010.  It also contained a variety of other recommendations, including keeping current with the rating systems as they evolve. 

The GSA's recommendation is an interesting one for two reasons:

(1) the GSA requires its buildings to be LEED Gold, and

(2) the recommendation was not supplemented to recommend LEED v4, even though the GSA did evaluate LEED v4. 

Since the Final Rule does not have a recommended rating system, and most agencies are unlikely to parse whether a particular rating system other than LEED complies with these characteristics, the GSA's recommendations are likely to become the Federal default.  


A Long Way to the Courthouse: the Region 7 EPA Headquarter Controversy

Yesterday, the City of Kansas and the County of Wyndotte sued the General Services Administration for moving the EPA Region 7 headquarters from an older LEED building in the Kansas City central business district to a former Applebee's headquarters in Lenexa, Kansas. The complaint is available here.

This is a fascinating suit in that it highlights the paradox of a green building on an unsustainable site. Lenexa can only be described as a typical midwestern sprawling suburb, and the proposed new EPA headquarters is in an office park.  A Google earth map of Lenexa is available here and the proposed building is available here

The lawsuit alleges that the GSA violated two executive orders mandating that Federal facilities be sustainable and located in urban cores.

EO 12,072 requires:

Federal facilities and Federal use of space in urban areas shall serve to strengthen the Nation’s cities and to make them attractive places to live and work” and mandates that such Federal space “shall conserve existing urban resources and encourage the development and redevelopment of cities.

and Executive Order 13,514 which mandates, among other things, that

the head of each Federal agency to “advance regional and local integrated planning by . . . (iii) ensuring that planning for new Federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit, and emphasizes existing central cities. . . ."

The GSA defends its decision to move from a green building in the central business district to a suburban office park on two grounds--it is cheap and it is green: 

GSA spokeswoman Angela Brees said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but reasserted the agency's claim that the Lenexa building was the cheapest available, even when considering the cost of moving to a new office. [The building] also scored highest on technical criteria that include sustainability and design, she said. The owners of the building, which has been given a Silver rating by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, have vowed to upgrade it to meet LEED Gold standards and get a Platinum rating for operations and maintenance by the time employees arrive.

Putting aside the environmental implications, I would argue (and the Complaint alludes to it as well) that the Lenaxa decision does not hold up on a purely economic basis, let alone an environmental one.   The new site is located outside of the central business district, and has little access to transit.  This means that every time an EPA employee has to go to a  meeting, the courthouse and to other businesses in the course of their official duties, they must do so by car.  

Currently, the Federal government reimburses private vehicle travel at $.51 per mile.  Previously, the distance from the EPA headquarters to the Kansas City Federal Courthouse was .6 miles.  The distance from the Lenaxa facilitiy to the Federal courthouse is 21 miles.

According to the New York Times, the Applebee's HQ rent is more than the current rent.  On top of that, based on the above calculation, the taxpayer will be paying a $20 surcharge for every trip of an EPA Region 7 lawyer, paralegal, witness to the courthouse.  Of course, it will also mean the same $20 surcharge for any other trip of any Region 7 employee travelling to the Kansas City CBD on official business. 

Utilmately, it appears that this will not be a green decision, in either sense of the word.