A recent executive order by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal that broadened the eligibility guidelines of permissible timber in government construction projects has triggered parallel measures by a trio of other Deep South states.
Deal signed in August an order stipulating that any new or expanded state building must “recogniz[e] all forest certifications equally.” The move drew little local focus outside of industry lobbyists and conservative academics, yet roused lawmakers in neighboring states to adjust their own regulations.
The practical application of the governor’s mandate banned Georgia government agencies from adopting the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a popular green building program, because it’s singular preference for a forestry certification standard that remains unpopular with the state’s foresters.
Two-thirds of Georgia’s 37 million acres of land area is timberland available for commercial use, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Forest Service, but much of that timber is necessarily excluded from resource pools by those states and federal agencies that apply LEED standards to construction and renovation.
LEED, which enforces green building practices on more than 34 state governments and 14 federal agencies, solely recognizes timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Nationwide, FSC-approved forests represent less than one quarter of all certified US timber. In Georgia, less than one percent of certified forests have been approved by the program. The state’s remaining forests, virtually all, are excluded from resource pools in LEED-orchestrated government projects.
Deal, through a spokesman, said his order evens the playing field for Georgia timber and would protect local jobs.
“This executive order puts Georgia timber on equal footing with products produced in other states or nations,” he said. “It encourages the use of Georgia timber, and it’s a way for the state to support and maybe create Georgia jobs.”
The months the followed the adoption of the Georgia order saw similar action in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama. Forestry experts expect North Carolina to join the list soon.
In late March, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed legislation that explicitly forbid the application of any green building rating system that excludes certification credits for timber certified by alternative forestry programs, including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the American Tree Farm System.
The Florida state House approved similar legislation, which now awaits Senate adoption, just as the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, signed an executive order that mirrored the Deal order. North Carolina is expected to join the list soon.
Forestry experts say it was Georgia’s Deal who set those dominoes in motion.
“I doubt Gov. Deal expected to so heavily impact the South by picking sides in the fight between the forestry sector and environmentalists, but his leadership has done more to protect one of the region’s most successful industries than any Dixie governor in a decade,” Jay Morgan, a Georgia lobbyist who has closely monitored the certification debate, told Tipsheet by email.
- Dome Confidential