Proposed Ban of PVC in Government Buildings Could Cause Environmental and Economic Harm

Green initiatives and certification often have unintended consequences and can often do more harm than good--not just to the economy but to the environment as well.

And the House the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, on Tuesday, is holding a hearing on the "science behind green building rating systems." Witnesses include officials from the United States Green Building Council and the embattled General Services Administration.

Recently, USGCB has sought to ban Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from government buildings even though studies have shown that PVC outperforms other alternatives. And the unintended consequences of these “green guidelines” could do more harm than good to the economy and the environment.

Leadership in Energy Development (LEED) is a certification process run by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGCB), a non profit, that certifies buildings as being “green” enough. And the USGBC has announced, in guidelines which can be seen here, that it will attempt to stipulate hat builders use "materials that do not contain" polyvinyl chloride  (PVC). But the science LEED uses is flawed.

The embattled GSA would adopt the guidelines, which is no surprise since the GSA, which oversees the leasing and administration of all government buildings and properties, has direct ties to LEED. In fact, the GSA’s deputy director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, Donald Horn, is an adviser to LEED’s board of directors.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that the agency is accused of demanding “a share of the federal energy-efficiency tax breaks it was offering to contractors in order to spend money on other projects,” which could have been “special projects” such as lavish trips and conference to Las Vegas.

The proposed regulations will “outright ban the use of all materials containing PVC” and, if approved, could harm chemical, manufacturing, building industries; increase the cost of newly constructed buildings and materials; eliminate jobs; and even harm the environment.

Environmentalists have long wanted to ban PVC.

Groups like Greenpeace have waged campaigns to get PVC banned. All this is consistent with the person who founded LEED, a liberal environmentalist named Rob Watson who once proclaimed, “buildings are literally the worst thing that humans do to the planet.”  

So while environmentalists and the government attempt to ban PVC, Allen Blakey, vice president of Industry and Government Affairs for the Vinyl Institute, thinks the proposed rules have more than caused concern, especially since PVC is a material that the USGBC had once looked at more favorably than it does now.

Blakely noted that the “USGBC has failed to live up to its claim of ‘technical rigor’ in LEED credits as well as its own procedures for balance, fairness and ‘consensus.’ It has ignored scientific studies (including its own TSAC review), as well as studies for the European Commission and others, that found PVC’s life-cycle health and environmental performance as good as, or better than, the performance of competing materials.”

According to Blakely, the USGBC has “turned their backs on their own their own studies.”

It seems like Blakely is right.

In 2007, a USGBC study found that “PVC outperforms a number of alternative materials in ecotoxicity, eco depletion and contribution to climate change.” The study found that “relative to the environmental impact categories (acidification, eutrophication, ecotoxicity, smog, ozone depletion and global climate change), PVC performs better than several material alternatives studied,” and alternatives such as aluminum siding or cast iron pipe “could be worse than using PVC.”

Further, PVC is most commonly used for sewage pipes and alternatives would not only be more expensive but potentially more corrosive. Needless to say, sewage is a serious public health concern.

In fact, as the Washington Post noted, “builders and architects known for their ‘greenness’” implied that a product's durability can actually be better for the environment in the long run than some “green” materials that are not as durable.

Peter Pfeiffer, whom the Post referred to as “a nationally recognized green architect who is based in Austin,” said he's discovered "that many certifications raise as many questions as they’re supposedly answering.”

And yet, environmentalists would risk, by banning PVC, the corrosion of sewage pipes, all in the name of making environmental and “green” statements.

And that’s not even taking into account the economic havoc and harm such regulations will potentially create.