Opening a new front in the long-running fight over green-certified wood, three members of Arkansas' Congressional delegation urged the president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to accept wood certified by other systems besides the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as being eligible for points under the LEED rating system.

The letters earlier this month to Rick Fedrizzi from Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Reps. Mike Ross and Marion Berry come a month after the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) launched a petition drive making essentially the same request of USGBC. The Arkansas letters and the petitioners all take aim against proposed changes to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rules that would replace FSC's exclusive recognition as a wood certifier with standards that in theory would let other groups' standards apply as well. (See related story.) Sources said other members of Congress are being urged to write similar letters.

"Many in the domestic lumber industry and forestry sector have raised concerns about the process used to develop these standards, saying the process has largely ignored the need to address its exclusive recognition of FSC certified wood," said the letter from Lincoln, whose verbiage was pretty much duplicated in the Berry and Ross letters. "Products from SFI and ATFS [the American Tree Farm System] certified forests continue to be ineligible for the LEED forest certification credit."

The Congressional letters argue that it's unfair for USGBC to require third-party certification in order for wood to be eligible for LEED points when steel and concrete don't face the same standards. They also imply that SFI- and ATFS-certified forestlands in Arkansas are quite well-managed, and thus it's unfair to penalize what comes from them because they don't carry the FSC label.

"I urge you and your organization to re-evaluate your approach to forest management certification systems as quickly as possible, and to accept all credible forest management certification systems as qualifying under the LEED standards," read Lincoln's letter. That paragraph's language is essentially the same as in the other two letters.

USGBC has now gone through three drafts and three comment periods for its proposed revisions of the wood certification rule. Wood certification has been one of the most contentious issues USGBC has grappled with over the years, even though the head of the USGBC committee charged with managing the question has told ProSales the fight is "totally out of proportion to its importance" in the overall green building movement (story).

Once the USGBC's panel finishes its work, the proposed revisions would be submitted to the USGBC membership for a vote. That could happen later this year.