Stay-ing Alive: Staying Clean Power Plan compliance may derail it permanently

There is chatter that the Clean Power Plan Final Rule will be released in early August, but also a strong effort to delay implementation until the various legal challenges are resolved. The stay could be imposed either judicially or legislatively. A bill passed the House and is currently pending in the Senate that would allow states to delay writing implementation plans until judicial review has concluded. A judicial stay could also be imposed. Given that the wheels of justice grind slowly, a stay could destroy the effectiveness of the CPP. Currently, the states' plans are due in 2016. If a stay is in place, the plans would be potentially delayed until after the next presidential election. The next president may or may not support the CPP, and could abandon it altogether. Even if executive support does not wane, the position of some states in complying with the law may. For example, in Pennsylvania, Republican Governor Tom Corbett was a leading voice opposing the CPP, and Pennsylvania passed a law requiring legislative approval of a CPP compliance plan. In 2014, however, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf was elected, and he is very supportive of the CPP, and Pennsylvania is developing its plan to comply. A change in state legislature or administrative make-up could easily go the other way. Moreover, the emissions reductions are measured at 2020 and 2030. If plans are delayed until after 2016, states will have a difficult, if not impossible, task of meeting the 30% emissions reduction target by the current dates. The rule compliance dates would have to shift, which could open up the CPP to more changes and further delays. The stay strategy is quite clever. Inertia is a powerful force. Once plans are submitted and underway, it will be much harder to derail the entire CPP framework. Economic incentives will change, and industries/jobs will grow around the new areas of investment. So, if a stay is put in place (most likely a judicial stay, because it is unlikely that Obama would sign a legislative stay), the CPP will face an uncertain future.

Inside Baseball No More--Why The Building Code Adoption Process Is Critical To Sustainability

A lot of attention has been paid to creating a greener building stock by incorporating green building practices into building codes.  The development of the International Green Construction Code is just one example.

However, there are two primary components to every regulation--policy and process.  Both components are critical to acheiving regulatory goals. Good laws that are not implemented and enforced might as well not exist, and bad laws which are well implemented create a different, but equally bad, outcome. 

The process for approving building codes is arcane at best and impenetrable at worst. To those interested in sustainability, code process may seem like the ultimate "inside baseball" information, like knowing what the Lou Brock's 1967 out statistic was--simply not vital to understanding baseball as a whole.  HB 377, a law signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett this week demonstrates how how process changes can impact green building and energy efficiency policy. 

 Generally, the process for adopting building codes is as follows:

1.  The local or state government enacts enabling legislation requiring a building code, often incorporating the International Code Council's model code.  

2.  The International Code Council updates their model building codes on a regular basis, once every three years.

3.  The state or local government has some mechanism, either automatic or through an approval process, for updating its building code to the new version. 

Depending on what level of authority is provided to local governments with respect to their building codes, local governments may adopt additional or different changes to the building code requirements.

Pennsylvania has a state wide building code which, until this week, was an "opt-out" model.  Updates to the International Construction Code were automatically incorporated into the Pennsylvania code unless provisions were specifically rejected by a Governnor-appointed council comprised of builders, architects, code officials and so on. 

The bill enacted this week switches the code adoption to an "opt-in" model.  Any changes to the construction code must be approved by a super-majority vote by the council, otherwise the prior code remains in effect.  In addition, the law adds an additional seat to the 19 member council for:


Policy watchers, like Penn Future , the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, and the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships , anticipate that the super-majority vote of the council will make enacting updates of the ICC very difficult, and that the extra seat for the general contractor will bias the council against upgrading the stringency of the building code. This, of course, includes code changes for greater energy efficiency requirements and incorporating green building practices.

HB 377 said nothing about energy efficiency or green building.  Nonetheless, the changes to the building code adoption process creates a potentially significant barrier to a greener building stock in Pennsylvania.  On a 20 person board, It would require 13 votes to put a code change into effect, and each change must be lobbied for separately.  

Do you know what the code adoption process is in your state or municipality?  Are there any proposed changes?  Let GBLB know what you find out.  It might surprise you.