$4.5 Billion ‘Green Building’ in Stimulus Is Wasteful Partisan Spending, Critics Say

By Josiah Ryan | February 24, 2009 | 5:28 PM EST

Susan Smith, left, of Omaha, Neb., and Craig Halverson, of Griswold, Iowa, members of the Nebraskans Advisory Group, express their opposition to the economic stimulus package in Omaha, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009. The two staged their protest at a busy city intersection. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

(CNSNews.com) – The Democrats’ $787-billion stimulus package includes $4.5 billion designated to help transform functioning federal government facilities into “high-performance green buildings.” 
Advocates for green policy in the U.S. told CNSNews.com that the spending is both a sound investment and environmentally responsible, but conservatives watchful for government waste said the expenditure is an example of partisan spending in the stimulus package.
According to the bill’s language, “not less than $4,500,000,000 shall be available for measures necessary to convert General Services Administration (GSA) facilities to High-Performance Green Buildings.”
The GSA supports other federal departments by “providing workplaces, by constructing, managing, and preserving government buildings and by leasing and managing commercial real estate,” according to its Web site. It “owns and leases over 354 million square feet of space in 8,600 buildings in more than 2,200 communities nationwide.”
In addition to office buildings, GSA properties include land ports of entry, court houses, laboratories, post office and data processing centers.  
“In economic terms the energy and water savings will far outweigh the upfront costs,” Jason Hartke, director of advocacy and public policy for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), told CNSNews.com. “That’s what’s created this explosion in various financial models to capture energy savings as collateral for renovation.”
According to Hartke a “green building” generally costs about two percent more than a conventional building but the savings produced by the energy-efficiency usually pays back the investment within 12 to 24 months of construction.
However, Steve Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com – a Web site that challenges many of the claims about global warming – said that future savings do not, in fact, justify the initial investment.
“I don’t think it’s going to accomplish anything,” Milloy told CNSNews.com. “When will the efficiency savings make up for the capital costs? I don’t know if that will ever happen. This is just a make-work project. This is not going to stimulate the economy or increase production of goods and services.”
“They are buffaloing the American people with all this green stuff,” said Milloy. “People think it’s good if it’s green, but it can never pay off.”
According to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Web site, a high-performance commercial building is constructed “with energy, economic, and environmental performance that is substantially better than standard practice.”
Hartke said a high-performance building includes features like sustainable siding, water efficiency, energy efficiency, use of renewable energies, and standards for indoor environmental air quality.
The economic stimulus legislation also refers to the Energy Independence Act of 2007, which outlines steps taken to transform a facility into a “high-performance green building.”
This includes replacing lighting systems so that “not more than one watt per square foot” is expended; “daylighting” buildings;” the “planting of vegetation that shades the facility and reduces the heating, cooling, or lighting needs;” and installing “geothermal heat pumps,” which use the ground or ground water as a source of heating and cooling.
But beyond claims that spending money on green buildings is a waste of taxpayers’ money, Brian Johnson, federal affairs manager at the conservative Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), told CNSNews.com that the spending is also an example of Democrats injecting partisan politics into their “stimulus package.”
“One hundred percent of the money will go to organized labor,” said Johnson, referring to the $4.5 billion designated for creating high-performance green buildings.
“Any agency that receives federal funds for green jobs is only able to receive the funds if they partner with organized labor. All of this money is not creating jobs – it is creating more expensive work and limiting who can do it. It’s giving a political kick-back to labor union buddies.”
Johnson said that the Green Jobs Act, part of the 2007 Energy Independence Act signed into law by President George W. Bush, mandates that all green work done with federal money must go to companies that hire organized labor. The law was essentially designed to create a “green collar” workforce to fill “green” jobs
Among other things, the Green Jobs Act provides grants to train workers in “green” construction. 
However, this was criticized by the Independent Electrical Contractors, a non-union national trade association, because the law prevented “non-union training programs across the country from receiving this grant funding” and “the Act specifically limits program eligibility to entities that partner with labor.”
Johnson said that organized labor work is generally about 22 percent more expensive than non-organized labor work.
Milloy said he also thinks the $4.5 billion expenditure is about political favors.
“The spending in there is about politics,” he said. “I certainly can’t think of any real stimulus in the package. If they wanted stimulus, they should have cut taxes and let people keep their own money. This business of picking winners and losers is about political payback.”
But Marchant Wentworth, legislative representative for clean energy for the liberal Union of Concerned Scientists, told CNSNews.com that the spending is not about politics, or paying back unions, but simply sound investments and a way to help save the environment.
“That wasn’t part of the calculation,” said Wentworth. “It’s not about some new Democratic spending plan. If you have a green building, you save the owner money, you save the tenants money, and you save the environment. It’s a triple – and it’s the gift that keeps giving. It pays back year after year.”
Meanwhile, Michael McGill, a spokesman for GSA, told CNSNews.com that his agency is still developing a plan on how to use the money.
“We are very glad to be included in the bill, and now we have 45 days to submit a list of proposed packages,” said McGill. “I cannot comment at this time, however, on exactly how we are going to use the money.”
McGill said the GSA should generally not have any difficulty using the money because of the vast size of their operation. According to him, the GSA controls 358 million square feet of government building and facilitates workspace for more than 1 million federal employees
“We are basically the world’s largest real estate organization,” said McGill.