Too often, the exigencies of politics, and the opportunism of politicians, lead to short-term thinking. Nowhere is this more apparent than in environmental policy. Immediate benefits can be realized through ignoring environmental concerns, but in the long run we all suffer. Such is the entire idea of sustainability.
The people of Oklahoma are a practical bunch and will rightly look askance at a government that imposes new mandates on them while exempting itself from such actions. The opposite course is much wiser. The state of Oklahoma can lead by example by implementing legislation requiring that any new construction or renovation of public buildings be compliant with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ” or LEED ” Green Building Rating System.
The gist of this proposal is contained in House Bill 3319, authored by Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the legislation was apparently dead for this session; however, wilder things have surely happened at 23rd Street and N. Lincoln Boulevard. Barring the passage of this legislation, the governor should investigate how much of the purpose may be accomplished through the exercise of his executive authority within the portion of the government directly under his control.
The result would be increased cost in the short term as capital outlays were expended. Thereafter, the energy efficiency would result in cost savings. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, by increasing the capital outlay in a $5 million project by a meager $100,000, a cost saving of $1 million may be expected over the life of the building. This is no mere conjecture, but rather the studied result of California’s enacted version of HB 3319.
The benefits extend from the economic. There is no doubt that environmental and public health outcomes would improve with green policies. As buildings are estimated to consume up to a third of all energy, we are not dealing with minor matters here. There is, however, another aspect of responsible government to which I would like to draw your attention in this scenario.
We have all heard government officials bloviate about the low savings rate of American families. At the same time, we see irresponsible government deficits run up year after year ” the epitome of short-term thinking. No wonder Americans continue to follow their government’s lead. However, adherence to LEED standards by the government, followed by publicizing the cost savings, could encourage citizens and businesses to follow suit. For those who lack the means to increase capital outlays to save long-term, we can look into targeted tax deductions and credits.
A necessary first step is to end the false perception of a dichotomy between economic strength and environmental health. Public officials in both parties, urban and rural, ought to work together for practical solutions in this field. Too often, diehards on the left use the environment as a rhetorical tool with no intent of real progress, while those on the right invoke laissez-faire orthodoxy regardless of the consequences.
There are three kinds of politicians: ideologues, who try ” and fail ” to make reality fit their preconceived notions; cynics, who manipulate public affairs for their own gain; and statesmen, who work with others to get things done in accord with principle. Oklahoma’s environment and economy need statesmen.
Reese is an attorney who lives with his wife and son in Oklahoma City.