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.
There is a war on building codes across the United States, and Pennsylvania is ground zero.
After years of regular building code updates, a law was passed in 2011 (Act 1) at the urging of the Pennsylvania Builders Association to make it essentially impossible for building codes to be updated.
Last Thursday, the Clean Air Council decided to take action, filing suit against the Commonwealth for its failure to adopt both the 2012 and 2015 codes, and challenging Act 1. The Petition in Commonwealth Court is available here, with the extensive exhibits available here.
In summary, the suit alleges that the Pennsylvania Review and Advisory Council (RAC), the 19 member body charged with reviewing and adopting building codes rejected the 2015 codes for no reason and against the recommendations of its own technical review subcommittees. It also alleges that Act 1 violated the Pennsylvania and Federal constitutions by creating a process that makes code adoption impossible.
Pennsylvania is an example of a nationwide trend. Starting with the 2009 codes, homebuilders associations in many states have sought to delay or derail code updates by taking over administrative building code review councils and lobbying for draconian legislation. North Carolina is another example, where the codes are now on a 6 year cycle, and more legislation is in the works (HB255) to make adoption even more difficult.
The implications for the built environment in terms of safety, energy efficiency, cost-effectiveness and resilience from natural disaster damage are massive.
Of course, up-to-date codes save lives. Recently, a 2 year old child fell out of a window that was not built to the current codes. Had the current codes been in effect, the window would not have been able to open as far, preventing this tragedy.
With natural disasters on the rise, making the built environment more resilient is critical. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) determined that $1 spent on preparedness for natural disasters will save $4 in restoration costs. FEMA has also said that up-to-date building codes are among the most cost-effective mitigation measures.
The 2015 codes include many flood-related provisions, including changes to the 2015 International Residential Code supported by FEMA’s Superstorm Sandy analysis report.
Up-to-date codes save consumers money and benefit the environment through greater energy efficiency. The 2015 codes are 15% more energy efficient than the 2009 codes, and 30% more energy efficient than the 2006 codes. The Department of Energy estimates that consumers will save between $4000-$24,000 over the course of a 30 year mortgage (2009 compared to 2015 codes), as well as reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Simple payback will be less than two years.
The health of the United State's manufacturing sector and the safe and effective installation of new technology also requires regular building code updates.
Investment: The investment decisions of electrical manufacturing companies like Eaton, Tyco, Lutron and others in capital equipment, machinery, and jobs are often based upon nationwide adoption of codes. When those codes are not adopted, or adoption is delayed, decisions to make those investments and hire employees are negatively impacted.
Risk management: Installation codes and product standards work hand in hand to ensure public safety and ensure that products perform in the manner in which the manufacture intends and customer expects. Not adopting the latest code puts us at risk, first responders at risk, engineers at risk, distributors at risk, general contractors, electrical contractors and citizens at risk. Liability can be increased for all of the above if up-to-date codes are not adopted. These companies build products to meet new code requirements, and expect the equipment to be installed in that manner across the United States.
Innovation: New technology, like ground source heat exchange, high-pressure decorative exterior grade compact laminates, dynamic glazing, solar energy systems, electric vehicle charging stations and many others have been gaining traction over the past few years. Up-to-date codes provide guidance on the safe and effective installation of these new products. For example, the 2015 codes have updated roofing requirements for installation, wind resistance, fire classification and others. These changes will protect the lives of homeowners and first responders alike.
The Clean Air Council chose to take this issue head on, and I will keep you updated on the progress.
Image courtesy of kdshutterman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
After long and diligent work, my own Commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced last week that it had successfully bundled 4,700 residential energy efficiency loans, and obtained $23 million in cash and $8.3 million in deferred payments, for a projected total of $31.3 million. The press release is available here.
This is a holy grail of sorts. People have been saying for years that energy efficiency loans should be able to be bundled and sold, a la mortgages and credit card loans. In theory, bundling the loans would allow private capital to invest in pools of energy efficiency loans, as opposed to individual projects, injecting more capital into the market for energy efficiency upgrades and lowering the interest rates.
Although it seemed like a workable idea, few before the Pennsylvania Treasury had accomplished it. Energy efficiency loans were considered too weird, too complicated, too risky, etc. to be bundled. Most critically, financial institutions mostly considered energy efficiency loans to be too risky because there was an insufficient amount of data on energy efficiency loan defaults.
In light of these issues, the Pennsylvania transaction still does not really recognize energy efficiency loans as a unique asset class. By this I mean that the stream of income from the saved energy is not being recognized as part of the transaction. As far as the investors are concerned, the loans could be for HVAC equipment or Manolo Blahniks, they are all just unsecured consumer loans. In addition, Treasury still had to put up significant credit enhancements to make the loan pool desirable.
In addition, the transaction took a long time and had high transaction costs. A private entity probably would not have had the resources or perservernce needed to cross the finish line. Future transactions will need to be more standardized, both with in terms of assets and documentation.
Nonetheless, the Pennsylvania transaction and the many lessons its staff learned along the way may be a very important step in accessing greater pools of capital for energy efficiency.
It has been stated that building energy codes are the “quickest, cheapest and cleanest way to improve energy efficiency in the building sector.”
Unfortunately, if the January 18, 2012 recommendations of the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (the “Advisory Council”) go into effect, Pennsylvania will not adopt the 2012 updates to Pennsylvania’s building and energy codes. The Advisory Council voted to reject the 2012 model codes issued by the International Code Council (“ICC”) in their entirely, except for a few provisions regarding accessibility for the disabled.
The Advisory Council also voted to recommend that the revision cycle for the Pennsylvania Construction Code be extended from three years, consistent with the international model code update schedule, to six years. If both the rejection of the 2012 codes and the extension of the code revision cycle go into effect, the 2009 codes will be in place until at least 2018, and Pennsylvania may miss out on the environmental and financial benefits of the 2012 code updates, and perhaps even the 2015 updates, as well.
This means that much of Pennsylvania’s new construction for the foreseeable future will be less energy efficient than “state-of-the-art” construction, placing owners and tenants at a competitive disadvantage compared to forward-thinking neighboring jurisdictions like New York City, Washington DC, and Maryland.
There is much more to this story. The full article is available here
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:
A GENERAL CONTRACTOR FROM AN ASSOCIATION REPRESENTING THE NONRESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY WHO HAS RECOGNIZED ABILITY AND EXPERIENCE IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF NONRESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS
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.
A "Perfect Storm" For Renewable Energy? Obama Makes Green Energy And Green Buildings A 2010 Priority
In last week's State of the Union address, Obama challenged America to embrace a "Sputnik Moment":
So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
Today, speaking in State College, PA, Barack Obama is scheduled to make a speech on committing to new programs for energy efficient buildings.
According to Reuters:
As part of that program, Obama will announce a plan to improve energy efficiency in U.S. commercial buildings by offering businesses incentives to help pay for clean energy upgrades of offices, stores and other buildings.
According to the White House, the "Better Buildings Initiative" will:
achieve a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020, reduce companies' and business owners' energy bills by about $40 billion per year and save energy.
Most significantly, the Obama administration announced that the cost of the program would be "paid for by ending tax subsidies for oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels."
Obama faces many challenges in the process. At a recent American Council On Renewable Energy event on the new political climate in Washington, all of the speakers expressed skepticism that real energy policy moves could be made in 2010. The Republican party does not want to be perceived to approve of any discretionary spending. The fossil fuel lobby is very strong and the breaks and incentives for fossil fuels very well entrenched. Finally, states with nonrenewable resources like coal, natural gas and petroleum are loathe to threaten these high value industries, particularly in lean economic times.
Obama and the Democrats have a few unique elements which could turn into a "perfect storm" for renewable energy policy:
- Public interest studies have demonstrated that Americans currently have a positive image of solar and other renewables.
- The Gulf Oil Spill is still relatively fresh in the public's mind.
- The turmoil in the Middle East is increasing by the day.
- There were record weather patterns again this winter.
- The ARRA demonstrated the capacity of public investment to grow green jobs.
If these components can be honed into a clear, coherent connection to the value of investment in renewable energy, then it may be possible to achieve a major step forward in energy policy.
One small step for Obama, one giant step for mankind.
"I"-nterview With Maureen Guttman, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Governor's Green Government Council
Maureen Guttman, AIA, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Green Government Council and Member of the ICC Sustainable Building Technology Committee, agreed to talk to Green Building Law Blog about why she felt the ICC Green Building Code Project was significant to sustainability and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Guttman is an active leader in the architecture profession, recently serving as the Pennsylvania representative to the American Institute of Architects Board of Directors. She is a recognized expert on building codes and green building policy, and has been instrumental in the development and passage of several pieces of related legislation in Pennsylvania.
GBLB: Why are you involved in the ICC Green Building Code Project?
MG: I have been involved in building code stuff for years. I view it as a major obligation of the professional responsibilities as a licensed architect. Building codes are a playbook for the designers of buildings, so compliance with the codes is one of the very fundamental principles that our license is predicated on.
I believe that all architects should be involved in aggressive code awareness. This was one of the things I pushed for on Board of AIA. I think that architects who are not involved in code development and awareness are missing out on what adds value to our profession.
GBLB: What makes the Green Building Code Project so important?
MG: This is an unbelievable opportunity to bring together the rules of the game with respect to health safety and welfare and layer on top the environmental health which we are charged with safeguarding. The idea of tying together the tenets of building health and safety and commitment to sustainability and tie it with regulatory procedure is a very exciting opportunity for me personally and for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is a good sign in terms of our commitment to codes that there are so many of us on the committee involved in developing the green building code—Pennsylvania is obviously a player.
GBLB: What is the future of the Green Building Code?
MG: It’s going to be very controversial. It is such a new way of thinking that there is going to be resistence. But hopefully it will provide some uniformity in what municipalities are enforcing as a ”green building". I hope it will also help the existing rating organizations promote ever more advanced sustainable initiatives—keeping the codes on its toes.
GBLB: What is the future of the Green Building Code for Pennsylvania?
MG: I’d like to think the green building i-code can be adopted in Pennsylvania as part of the process for adopting new codes. I envision a lively debate on it. I hope that Pennsylvania will be one of the first states to adopt it. It may be on a roll-in or an incentive basis. I hope that Pennsylvania will be at the forefront of pushing the adoption of this code. This will be a slam dunk measure to make some climate change goals achievable, as sole reliance on market incentives may not get us as far as fast.
Today the Pennsylvania DEP released the guidelines and application for the Small Business Energy Efficiency Grant Program. The program provides Pennsylvania small businesses with the opportunity to receive a 25 percent reimbursement matching grant of up to $25,000 to implement qualified energy efficiency projects. The Small Business Ombudsman’s Office will be accepting applications for Small Business Energy Efficiency grants from today until May 1, 2009, or until the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first.
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.
In the summer, Pennsylvania passed a $650 million progressive Energy Bill, with financial incentives for solar, high performance buildings, energy efficiency and so forth. See article here by the folks over at Red, Green and Blue.
Everything seemed to be progressing nicely, setting the stage for an increase in renewable energy in the Keystone State. Unfortunately, much of the $650 million Energy Fund was supposed to come from a bond offering. Today, Pennsylvania state officials announced they were putting off floating the bond because the bond market has dried up. Pennsylvania is not alone. Apparently, New York/New Jersey Port Authority tried to borrow $300 million, and they got no takers.
This is very bad news for the sustainability community. First, lack of access to financing makes governmental incentives almost impossible to fund, taking away one of government's best tools to use market drivers to encourage sustainable practices. Second, lack of government incentives reduces the market of renewable providers. Third, in a moment of low gas prices, lack of government incentives makes renewables less cost competitive. In short, it is a lose, lose, lose situation.