State ban on environmentally friendly construction advances

State buildings would be effectively banned from using environmentally friendly construction standards known as LEED certification, under a measure passed Monday by a committee in the Georgia Senate.

The “wood wars” battle over the national certification system comes as the state’s timber industry claims it discriminates against the use of local wood products that aren’t registered through the Forest Stewardship Council. According to the Georgia Forestry Association, only about 32,000 acres of the timber industry’s 20 million acres in Georgia currently meet that standard —since much of the industry here uses competing guidelines.

There are currently more than 100 state buildings with a LEED rating, but supporters of House Bill 255 say the state should do more to promote Georgia-grown wood. "It's a fairness and 'protect Georgia jobs bill,' to be honest with you," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Mike Cheokas, R-Americus.

The bill does not apply to private construction. Critics, however, said the ban would extend to state-sponsored construction at the state’s public universities and colleges. They called the effort shortsighted and unnecessary, since existing law already requires the use of Georgia forest products in state buildings.

The LEED system is administered by the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council and has become a brand-name force in the green construction industry.

Passage by the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee now sends HB 255 to the chamber’s Rules Committee, which decides when to schedule bills for a floor vote. The committee made some changes to the bill, so it would also still need another vote of approval from the House.