On June 4 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3021, the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act. The legislation directs local educational agencies (LEAs) which receive Federal grants for school improvements “to use a percentage of their grant, rising in 10% increments from 50% in FY2009 to 90% in FY2013, for public school modernization, renovation, repairs, or construction that meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating standards, Energy Star standards, Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) criteria, Green Building Initiative environmental design and rating standards (Green Globes), or equivalent standards adopted by the entities that have jurisdiction over such LEAs.” It further requires that the iron and steel used in such projects be produced in America, unless specifically exempted, and requires that all laborers and mechanics employed by contractors or subcontractors in work under this legislation be paid wages at rates not less than those prevailing upon similar work in the locality.
Aside from the fact that education is a local matter, this legislation is troubling because it would add many expensive environmental regulations and building requirements to cash-strapped school districts across the country in a one-size-fits-all manner that does not take local concerns, desires, or building design into account. Further, it never addresses the question of how environmentally “friendly” such standards and designs actually are. It simply assumes that because they are labeled “green” or “environmental” they must be effective.
This legislation is a misuse of Congressional power. Congress should not be involved in education and should not use tax dollars to mandate the implementation of a political ideology, especially without a cost-benefit analysis or consideration for whether it will do what it claims it will (e.g., save the environment). Are these so-called green designs and standards significantly more efficient than current building methods and designs which may be more practical? The answer to that question is not provided. What this legislation appears to be is pandering to political groups, especially environmental and labor organizations, which form the bedrock of support for the majority in Congress. Our highest legislative body is more concerned with implementing “green” legislation, which perhaps eases the conscience of some of its Members, than with addressing the nation’s most pressing problems. It is time for taxpayers to demand more accountability from our leaders.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.