Earlier this year, in the aftermath of USGBC’s release of the new LEED 2009 Minimum Program Requirements (“MPRs”), there was extensive discussion here at GRELJ and elsewhere with regard to the potential for decertification of LEED projects that fail to comply with the MPRs. A LEED 2009 decertification proceeding, though, would not be the first presented to USGBC/GBCI; according to an article that appeared last week in Eagle River, Wisconsin’s Vilas County News-Review, a group of local residents have filed a 125-page complaint with USGBC that challenges the award of LEED Gold certification to the Northland Pines High School, which was completed in the fall of 2006 and earned formal certification under LEED for New Construction Version 2.0/2.1 on May 10, 2007. It’s unclear when the complaint was filed or what specific allegations it asserts. However, according to the article, the residents initially raised concerns about the project during the design phase, claiming that a more efficient HVAC system was available and should have been specified by Hoffman LLC, the Appleton, Wisconsin-based firm that designed the school. A site visit from Hoffman and USGBC representatives is scheduled; the article reports that a December 7 conference call was to address certain areas of the complaint which USGBC was unable to clarify to the school board.
In terms of the procedures which both the residents and USGBC/GBCI are obligated to follow in addressing the complaint, the GBCI’s Certification Challenge Policy is important to review. It states, in pertinent part, that “GBCI may revoke previously granted LEED certification or take other action regarding LEED certification such as determine to reduce points or category of LEED certification previously granted, if GBCI determines that credits/prerequisites for LEED certification were granted based on erroneous documentation or falsely submitted documentation. Persons concerned with possible inaccurately granted LEED certification are encouraged to contact the GBCI, provided, however, that GBCI reserves the right to institute an investigation and review of such possible errors or inaccuracy or veracity of documentation without third party complaint.” In the full version of its article (which is not available online), the Vilas County News-Review reports a USGBC official as stating that USGBC “gets challenges from time to time on certification designation” but that the Northland Pines challenge is “off the wall.”
Independent from the technical merits of the complaint – which I am curious to review – the article raises many critical legal questions. First, if the allegations are indeed true, will GBCI exercise its ability to decertify the building? If it does, will the party or parties alleged to be responsible face legal action for those failures? Will the complaint – and any written record created pursuant to the requirements of the Certification Challenge Policy – result in precedent that GBCI will follow in any subsequent decertification proceedings? If so, could Northland Pines become the next Shaw Development, cited as the seminal case for LEED decertification and subsequent green building litigation? If other decertification proceedings take place in jurisdictions where legislation is tied to formal LEED certification, how will state and local governments penalize projects that are decertified (if at all)? Finally, to what extent – if any – will USGBC make decertification materials available to the public for peer review? The Northland Pines proceedings may not answer any of these questions, but because it is the first time a decertification proceeding has been reported publicly, we will be keeping a close eye on what transpires in connection with GBCI’s review of the complaint, a copy of which I am attempting to obtain.