To resolve Utah's Building Code Identity Crisis, Listen to Mom

Better air quality or slower adoption of building codes? Like a rebellious teenager, Utah is having an identity crisis over building codes. The answer, of course, is to listen to mom.

According to Ingrid Griffee, executive director of Utah Moms for Clean Air from a post:

Waiting at least six years to update our codes means Utahns will not have the energy efficient homes we need to help clean up our air and save money.

Polling indicates that Utahns want better air quality, and the Clean Air Action Team created by Governor issued a formal report that included more stringent energy codes to help achieve this goal.

At the same time, HB 285 was introduced in the Utah legislature which would extend the building code adoption cycle to 6 years (down from the recommendation of a 9 year cycle last session). The bill also requires a cost-benefit analysis of each provision of new codes applicable to 1- and 2- family dwellings and low rise townhouses.

These two efforts are fundamentally incompatible. The 2009 codes were 15% more energy efficient than the 2006 codes, the 2012 codes were 15% more energy efficient than the 2009 codes, and the 2015 codes gave more options for builders to comply.

If Utah had skipped the 2009 or 2012 code cycles, energy efficiency and the air quality benefits would have been missed as well. If the 2015 codes were skipped, builders would miss out on cost savings.

The provision-by-provision cost-benefit requirement has been shown in other states, like North Carolina, to be a tactic to delay or derail adoption of new codes.

From an economic standpoint, the changes have already been subject to an economic analysis by the International Code Council committees that evaluate code changes. For the forthcoming cycles, a new ICC policy change now not only requires advocates to indicate whether a proposed code change will increase the cost of construction, along with a requirement to substantiate the cost increase, but also carries a stipulation that if a cost impact statement or substantiation is not provided, the proposed code will be considered incomplete and not processed.

Second, there were 1900 changes from the 2012 to the 2015 codes. This requirement is onerous and pointless. The new codes should be evaluated as a whole, and based on the safety, environmental and welfare aspects as well as any potential economic cost.

It is always a mistake to argue with mom. Like a heart tattoo with your prom date's name, the Utah legislature should use its better judgment and reject the pointless building code adoption legislation and allow the review and adoption of codes to proceed, benefitting both the environment and increasing the safety and welfare of Utahns.

Extreme Makeover: EPA Edition

LA Pollution 1968 vs. 2005The Home and Garden Channel (HGTV) is the top rated cable network on the weekends.  At the end of every remodeling show on HGTV is the big reveal, dramatic "before and after" footage of the transformation of the kitchen or bedroom.

How does this relate to EPA?  On my Muse of Eloquence blog (which deals more generally with policy and communications issues), I discussed the Democratic losses last week, diagnosing it as a communications problem, not a policy problem.  

This is doubly true with respect to the Environmental Protection Agency.  Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency needs to improve its brand image, not just among young voters (or, non-voters, as is more accurate), but with voters that turn out on a regular basis.  To do so, it must make the impact of environmental regulation personal.

Fortunately, the EPA has a lot of "before and after" images to use in its advertising campaign.  For example, above is a picture of air pollution in Los Angeles in 1968, before the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, and 2005, 35 years later (Image courtesy of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder).

CIRES conducted a study on what caused the reduction in air pollution.  Although population has tripled in LA since 1968, according to lead study author Ilana Pollack: 

LA’s air has lost a lot of its ‘sting,' Our study shows exactly how that happened, and confirms that California’s policies to control emissions have worked as intended.

"Before and after" footage is compelling because, by viewing the pictures, we are experiencing the change personally.  The EPA (and other Federal agencies, for that matter) needs to reframe the debate by spending more (a LOT more) of their budgets on advertising showing the American people the transformative impact that regulation has had on everyday life.  We await the big reveal in 2016.