By John Murawski —

RALEIGH — A proposal to promote the use of North Carolina-grown timber in state government buildings could prevent state offices from receiving the prestigious LEED green building certification.

The legislation, which has the backing of the Weyerhaeuser Corp. and the N.C. Forestry Association, easily passed the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday by a vote of 26-8. It was the first vote on the bill since it was introduced a month ago.

The state’s timber industry can’t bid on many state construction projects because tree farms in the state typically don’t meet the LEED sustainable forestry standard, said Weyerhaeuser spokeswoman Nancy Thompson. As a result, building projects in North Carolina seeking the nation’s premier green building seal end up sourcing their lumber from other states or even from other countries, supporters said.

“LEED creates incentives to import foreign wood and also ignores quality wood grown within our own borders,” said the bill’s sponsor, Michele Presnell, a Republican who represents Haywood, Madison and Yancey counties on the western edge of the state.

The legislation was opposed by the U.S. Green Building Council as well as by Charlotte-based Nucor Corp., the nation’s largest steel producer and North America’s largest recycler.

The use of Nucor materials during construction boosts LEED ratings because Nucor beams and girders are made from over 90 percent recycled content.

“LEED benefits domestic steel,” said Nucor’s representative at the hearing, William Culpepper IV, of the Moore & Van Allen law firm.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a widely accepted standard for green building certification. It was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and is based on a grading system using a 110-point scale for commercial buildings and a 136-point scale for residential buildings. The standard weighs energy efficiency as well as indoor air quality, water conservation, reduction of commuting miles and a host of other sustainability measures.

The newest building on Wake Tech’s Northern Wake Campus received LEED Gold certification in January. Features – including a rooftop terrace to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, daylight harvesting to conserve electricity, low-flow bathroom fixtures and no-irrigation landscaping – are expected to result in a 38 percent reduction in energy use and a 48 percent reduction in water use.

Presnell’s bill applies only to state government construction and renovation, not to construction by private businesses and residential developers, which is the majority of LEED certifications. North Carolina has 27 state buildings with LEED green certification, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. But the state has 281 schools, 1,288 homes and 1,375 commercial buildings with the LEED seal.

The LEED forestry standard, called the Forest Stewardship Council, is stricter with regard to the use of clear cutting, herbicides and pesticides than other forestry standards, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and American Tree Farm System, said Laura Deaton Klauke, programs director for the North Carolina chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

More than 98 percent of North Carolina’s timberland – about 1.4 million acres – participates in the non-LEED forestry standards. Only 0.7 percent of the state’s timberland – 10,455 acres – is cultivated according to the LEED-approved Forest Stewardship Council standards, said Brian Haines, spokesman for the N.C. Forest Service.

Presnell’s House Bill 628, which is supported by the N.C. Forest Service, requires that state buildings seek green certification from organizations that recognize multiple forestry standards, not just the standard accepted by LEED. Critics say the provision disqualifies LEED, but would allow government facilities to seek ratings from other green building standards.

The bill also restricts state buildings seeking green certification to using an evaluation system that was developed by and is approved by the American National Standards Institute, another condition that would disqualify LEED, which is not approved by ANSI.

“This is a very blunt instrument,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County and a former national president of the Sierra Club, who voted against the bill.

The bill next heads to the House floor.

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