The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports that on May 21, 2011, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced legislation to promote energy efficiency in a variety of areas, including energy codes for new homes and commercial buildings.
The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness (ESIC) Act of 2011 contains a number of provisions, but most importantly, it would create a model federal building code administered with support by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Proposals from Congress regarding energy codes have appeared in federal legislation for a number of years, but the ESIC Act takes a significantly different approach from one of the most recent, the controversial and onerous “Waxman-Markey” House bill introduced in 2009.
The NAHB and other national real estate organizations have had the opportunity to provide comments as the ESIC language was developed and were able to improve the legislation.
As a result of those recommendations, the legislation:
- Requires the DOE to establish all energy targets through public notice and comment rulemaking procedures, as opposed to specifying efficiency targets in the law itself. For example, the ESIC Act does not set a mandate for model energy codes to achieve a 50 percent increase in efficiency over a baseline by a target year.
- Incorporates economic and cost considerations as model energy codes are developed, including a return on investment analysis for commercial/multifamily.
- Subjects DOE model codes to a small business impact review analysis.
- Recognizes that “plug load” appliances and other items must be among considerations that count towards the energy efficiency target settings.
- Strikes language that would measure federal code compliance against illdefined “renovations” and maintains the status quo on building retrofits as covered by current IECC codes.
While the language has been improved, concerns remain. The ESIC Act gives the DOE new authority to “support the development of” federal model building energy codes, and in certain cases, even “establish” them.
Even without congressional action, the DOE and stakeholders on all sides acknowledge the IECC and ASHRAE model codes are becoming more stringent in their energy requirements.
With traditional energy codes already moving down the path of vastly improved building efficiency — driven in large part by the DOE’s ongoing support and advocacy — there are fundamental questions about why federal law is needed to create a new codes bureaucracy in Washington, DC.
The bill also seeks a $400 million appropriation to cover costs through 2015, which seems out-of-step with bipartisan sentiments to alleviate regulatory burdens on small businesses, minimize the reach of federal programs and reduce the nation’s annual deficit and overall debt.