Another industry front against chemical safety exposed

James Vallette | January 30, 2013 | Policies

A new voice you might be hearing in green building policy debates should sound familiar to the careful listener. An examination of comments and actions authored by an organization called the Taxpayer Protection Alliance (TPA) finds close parallels to testimony from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which has been working hard, behind-the-scenes, to undermine proposed chemical avoidance efforts in the US Green Building Council's LEED system.

This new association earns a rightful place alongside other industry fronts that cloak toxic building material agendas in populist garb, like the coal industry's Citizens for Recycling First and the flame retardant industry's Citizens for Fire Safety (profiled last weekend by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta).

An article by Paula Melton in Monday's Environmental Building News prompted me to look a little further into this outfit. She reported that the president of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance, David Williams, recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all communications between the USGBC and the US General Services Administration (GSA).

The conservative website, The Daily Caller, earlier this month quoted Williams as saying he wants to "see if there is a connection between the U.S. Green Building Council, a 501(c)3, that is benefitting financially from these new standards to get to the genesis of these LEED standards and see exactly just how much influence this nonprofit had."

Williams' efforts echo an ongoing and intense lobbying campaign by the ACC and its member chemical manufacturers against the GSA's green building certification requirements, and by extension LEED. The chemical industry campaign began when the USGBC drafted new credits that would reward the disclosure of product ingredients, and the avoidance of chemicals of concern.

TPA reported less than $150,000 in income in 2011. It appears to be a one- or two-person operation. So beyond Mr. Williams, which "taxpayers" might be particularly interested in this singular issue?

Yesterday, Lloyd Alter of TreeHugger revealed some key connections.

Alter looked at the TPA's Form 990, which non-profit organizations file annually with the IRS. He found that two officers listed on the form are closely tied with "two of the biggest conservative dark money organizations."

  • Barry Bennett, listed as the organization's Vice President, runs the Alliance for America. This group supports conservative candidates for federal offices. It is one of many that formed after the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision legalized the flow of unlimited donations from undisclosed donors through nonprofits into campaigns.
  • Stephen DeMaura, listed as the TPA's Treasurer, runs Americans for Job Security. AJS has served a similar function as the Alliance for America, only longer. In 2009, the Alaska Public Offices Commission found that "Americans for Job Security has no purpose other than to cover various money trails all over the country."

This, then, is just the latest opaque figure in a succession of sham "alliances" and "coalitions" that are the offspring of corporate money. Follow the money, and you will find the very entities threatened by change.

Last July, Steve Russell, a lobbyist for the ACC, testified before Congress that:

"LEED is currently being revised in a way that could jeopardize U.S. jobs and our industry's competitiveness, not to mention building performance and efficiency. This matters to ACC - and it should matter to the Committee - because many of the construction materials our industry manufacturers are essential to the insulation, roofing, windows and sealants that allow private-sector and federal government buildings to achieve the kind of energy efficiency and cost savings critical to reducing environmental impacts and ensuring a sustainable future… These products include energy-efficient foam insulation; shatter-resistant polycarbonate glass (essential to federal courthouses and prisons) and cool vinyl roofing, such as the very roof recently installed on the DOE headquarters." (emphasis added)

And last month, in comments submitted to the USGBC, the TPA's Williams wrote:

"Products such as plastic insulation, vinyl roofing, and LED lighting are discouraged through the chemical avoidance credits in LEED v4... Moreover, there are credits for certification in this new standard that could reward architects for rejecting modern technology and chose (sic) instead to use a thatched straw roof, yet the standards dissuade builders who use bullet resistant glass in federal courthouses." (emphasis added)

These two passages should make clear for whom the TPA is campaigning against LEED's chemical avoidance credit, and on whose behalf it has filed the Freedom of Information Act request for USGBC communications: big chemical manufacturers.