House Votes to Preempt National Building Code Process
By a vote of 219 to 212, the House on June 26 narrowly approved climate change legislation that would establish a “cap and trade” market for buying and selling pollution allowances and create mandatory national energy code requirements for all homes and buildings.
Prior to consideration of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, NAHB sent a letter to House members expressing concern that federal preemption of the states’ rights to determine building codes would needlessly increase the cost of housing in America and fail to achieve its aim by focusing solely on new homes.
“We are troubled that this legislation contains provisions that will establish a national energy efficiency code, impair housing affordability for lower-income families, undermine green building and sustainability programs for new construction and increase already onerous federal permitting requirements,” the letter said. “Because of its negative impact on housing, NAHB has designated opposition to H.R. 2454 as a key vote.”
The bill number was subsequently changed to H.R. 2998.
By only targeting new homes and failing to pursue an integrated strategy that addresses existing homes, equipment efficiency and consumer behavior, the bill will fall far short of its mark of increasing energy efficiency in the residential sector, according to NAHB Chairman Joe Robson.
“The hard truth is that we can’t build our way out of this problem,” said Robson. “We need to look at our utilities and how they transmit power. We need to make our existing housing stock more energy-efficient. We need to look at how we can reduce our ‘plug load’ — home appliances, televisions and computers — and make these products more energy-efficient. The bill’s focus on new home construction won’t get us far at all.”
The sweeping legislation would require new homes to be 30% more energy-efficient than mandated in the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). By Jan. 1, 2014, the target would rise to 50% above the 2006 IECC. Between years 2017 and 2029, the code target increases 5% every three years until it reaches 75% over the 2006 IECC by 2029.
“That’s simply too far, too fast,” Robson said. “The market is not geared up to supply the necessary materials and equipment, and that’s going to drive up costs. The result will be fewer working-class families in these new energy-efficient homes. They’ll be relegated to older, less efficient housing stock and face ever higher utility bills.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, homes are responsible for about 21% of the energy consumed each year. “Forcing more regulation on a fraction of those homes just won’t move the needle,” Robson said.
States that fail to certify within one year after the date of enactment that they have adopted and will enforce the new code targets will be subject to federal penalties for non-compliance by the U.S. Department of Energy. At that point, if the DOE doesn't have a certification from a state that its code meets the targets, then the national energy code automatically becomes the applicable building code for that state or locality.
“The mandates in H.R. 2998 will undercut the new programs created in the GREEN Act, which are explicitly designed to preserve housing affordability while delivering sustainability through incentives for green building and energy efficiency,” said Robson.
Usurping states’ rights to determine appropriate building efficiency for homes and buildings within their jurisdiction would result in ineffective application of efficiency standards to address varying climate zones and specific needs, he added.
H.R. 2998 would also create the Natural Resources Adaptation Strategy, which directs federal agencies with jurisdiction over natural resources — including agencies considering permits under the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws — to consider the "impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on natural resources.”
This new requirement would raise significant obstacles in the federal permitting process, said Robson.
There is no companion climate bill in the Senate, and it is uncertain when that chamber will move forward with its energy legislation, which differs markedly from the House bill. NAHB will continue to monitor the situation closely and work to derail the onerous provisions in H.R. 2998 as the legislative process advances.
To read the legislation, click here and enter H.R. 2998 in the box at the center of the page.
For more information, e-mail Elizabeth Odina at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8570.