AHRI defeats the City of Albequerque, Complicating Matters for Local Governments

AHRI vs. City of Albuquerque, a case that I first posted on in 2008, finally reached its conclusion last week.  In line with the preliminary injunction she ordered on October 3, 2008, Judge Martha Vazquez of the District of New Mexico decided that Albuquerque's energy code was preempted by Federal law mandating the energy efficiency of HVAC equipment. 

Appliance Magazine reported:

In the latest opinion, Judge Vazquez confirmed her Sept. 10, 2010, rulings:
(1) The prescriptive energy efficiency standards in the 2007 Albuquerque code that are more stringent than federal minimum efficiency standards are preempted and cannot be saved from federal preemption by the availability of alternative code compliance paths.
(2) A particular performance-based code compliance option is preempted because it is based on a standard reference design that uses efficiency levels that exceed federal efficiency standards. Responding to a summary judgment motion filed by the city that essentially asked Judge Vazquez to reconsider her earlier rulings, she declined to do so and denied the city’s motion.

A similar suit was filed by the Building Industry Association in 2010 to enjoin (or, in regular english, stop) the Washington State Energy Code from taking effect. 

The foundation of both AHRI and BIA is in essence one of preemption--that the federal government has enacted laws that prevent lesser governmental authorities from passing laws on the same subject, here the Federal regulations governing the efficiency of HVAC equipment preempted state and local energy efficiency laws.

Interestingly, in the Washington case, the court found that the Washington State energy code was not preempted.   This creates a split between the District of New Mexico and the Western District of Washington.  In my next post, I will give more detail on the difference between the two cases.  It will make it more difficult for local governments to know the extent to which they can regulate HVAC energy efficiency, which may make local governments shy away from doing so.

State Preemption--When state law kills local green regulation

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.