I have written a lot about federal/local conflicts in green building regulation, particularly in regard to AHRI v. City of Albuquerque. Today I want to address state law preemption--when state laws prohibit localities from regulating green.
A great example of this is in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where I practice law.
In 2004, Pennsylvania adopted the Uniform Construction Code (UCC), a common building code for all municipalities in Pennsylvania.
The UCC in itself does not prevent local governments from passing green building regulations related to the building code as long as:
- the requirements are equal to or more stringent than the UCC,
- the local government secures approval from Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry,
- the local government provides appropriate public notice
L&I provides a web overview of the requirements for making changes to the UCC here.
The legal requirements are Section 503(b-k) of Act 45, 403.102 of the UCC Regulation, both available at PA L&I website.
PA L&I will evaluate the proposed change based on the following criteria:
(i) that certain clear and convincing local climatic, geologic,
topographic or public health and safety circumstances or conditions
justify the exception;
(ii) the exception shall be adequate for the purpose intended and
shall meet a standard of performance equal to or greater than that
prescribed by the Uniform Construction Code;
(iii) the exception would not diminish or threaten the health, safety
and welfare of the public; and
(iv) the exception would not be inconsistent with the legislative
findings and purpose described in section 102
However, certain court decisions have made it questionable whether green building goals would satisfy the “clear and convincing” standard to justify the exception. In Schuylkill Twp. v. Pa. Builders Ass'n, 935 A.2d 575 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2007), the Commonwealth Court held that townships must prove that “the conditions there were so different from the statewide norm that the uniform standards were not appropriate to use in the Township,” in order to satisfy the “clear and convincing” standard for an exception to the UCC.
This case is currently up on appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether the Pennsylvania law implementing the UCC requires a municipality to prove that there are unusual local circumstances or conditions atypical of other municipalities to justify an exception to the UCC.
If the Supreme Court determines that atypicality is required, local governments would have a very difficult time passing green building standards which required building practices different from those in the UCC--it would be very hard to argue that the benefits of green building any different in one township than any other in Pennsylvania.