AUGUSTA, Maine — A national environmental group says Gov. Paul LePage’s recent executive order expanding the standards for “green” timber required for state construction projects would lead to unsustainable wood harvesting.

Last week, the governor announced the broader standards for timber used in new or expanded state building construction. The administration said the order would bolster the state’s forest products industry and protect jobs.

But the Natural Resources Defense Council says the mandate is “greenwashing” — deceptively championing a policy as environmentally friendly — because its definition of “green” is so broad it no longer requires sustainable wood harvesting, effectively exempting state projects from having to use wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC certification, administered through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, requires wood to be harvested in a sustainable manner.

In a recent news release, the Defense Council said the governor’s order would lead to destructive logging. Sami Yassa, a senior scientist with the group, called the change “government-sponsored greenwashing.”

“Eliminating LEED effectively turns Maine’s once-great green building program into business as usual,” Yassa said in a prepared statement. “The governor has chosen to benefit a small segment of the state’s logging industry, often financed by out-of-state interests, who refuse to improve their practices.”

Yassa said more than 60 organizations in Maine are members of the U.S. Green Building Council, which represents the state’s green building industry. The industry, Yassa said, employs more than 60,000 people.

Yassa said exempting state projects from the FSC certification threatens more than $5 billion in economic activity by the state’s green building industry.

“By moving the state’s emerging green-building economy backwards, LePage is attacking one of the bright spots in the economy right now,” Yassa said. “His support of unsustainable forestry defies the interests of his citizens and common sense.”

The administration, however, said the move would allow the state’s forest products industry to be more competitive by getting “green” certification from other programs.

“By requiring state building projects to use ‘green’ materials under more certification programs, we are increasing the amount of Maine-produced wood available for public construction projects,” LePage said in a statement.

Bill Beardsley, commissioner of the Department of Conservation, said the order demonstrated the state’s broadening commitment to “voluntary forest certification.”

“It will create an even playing field among the diverse forest certification groups, both nationally and internationally,” Beardsley said in a news release. “It means that the local community college will be able to build using the certified wood products from the local sawmill.”

According to the administration, the state’s forest products industry directly and indirectly supports 55,000 jobs, annually generates more than $3 billion in earnings and contributes $4.3 billion annually to Maine’s gross domestic product. Maine also has the nation’s highest percentage of certified, private forestland.

Certification standards set the benchmarks for landowners to meet environmental and ecological harvesting goals. By expanding the state’s certification program to include “green building,” the administration says it’s supporting the competitiveness of the forest industry.

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