MARGOT ROOSEVELT, The Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2008
California issued new building standards Thursday, which state officials said would push developers to reduce the energy use of buildings by 15% and target a 50% reduction in water for landscaping.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed the new standards as groundbreaking, adding in a statement that they “will ensure that California remains in the forefront of reducing our carbon footprint and conserving valuable natural resources while also protecting our economy.”
However, the new green building language, which was heavily influenced by the construction industry, fell far short of the stringent rules that environmental advocates had sought.
Schwarzenegger staffers headed off what threatened to be an embarrassing full-throated condemnation by meeting with environmentalists Wednesday and agreeing to last-minute revisions of the draft.
Building codes, until now an obscure part of government rule-making, have moved to the forefront in the battle over climate change and energy. Nationwide, buildings consume 39% of energy, 12% of potable water, and 40% of raw materials, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. The structures are also responsible for 39% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Although California has long had the nation’s most energy-efficient building standards, the state will have to considerably toughen them to comply with its legal mandate to reduce its global warming emissions by 30% over projected amounts in the next 12 years.
The state Green Building Code Advisory Committee, headed by Robert Raymer, technical director of the California Building Industry Assn., and building groups Thursday cheered the new code.
“Our members applaud the governor for his leadership in encouraging our industry to adopt feasible and cost-effective technologies that ultimately will produce some of the most sustainable buildings in the nation,” said Rex S. Hime, president and chief executive of the California Business Properties Assn.
Earlier drafts of the rules had been strongly criticized by John Walser, director of policy and education for the Northern California chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, a national nonprofit of builders, architects and environmentalists that sets benchmarks for green building. Walser, and representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has 250,000 California members, said the earlier drafts would have preempted more stringent green building standards, such as those already set by 75 California cities and counties.
San Francisco and Los Angeles have enacted strict green building ordinances, based on the national council’s benchmark of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is also used by the state for public construction. But a large swath of the construction industry considers LEED standards too strict, and managed to head off efforts to incorporate them into the statewide code.
The new language adopted Thursday allows localities to adopt tougher standards. But Nick Zigelbaum, an energy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that many areas would see the weaker state code as “a ceiling” and said that the state Legislature should pass a bill to clarify local powers.
“NRDC has many concerns regarding the stringency of this code and its market impacts,” Zigelbaum said. “This code [is] a step forward for the state, creating a solid floor from which to build up; the really hard work is yet to come.”
Environmentalists had criticized the draft code for inadequate standards on recycling, renewable energy and the use of wood. But Schwarzenegger aides revised a section of the draft, which gave equal weight to wood certified by industry groups as it did to wood certified as sustainably harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council, an environmental nonprofit.
The building industry fiercely opposes the forest council’s standards for lumber, and environmentalists were unable to persuade the administration to include that council’s guidelines as the only acceptable certification.
The proposed green building code changes will initially be voluntary but are to become mandatory in 2010.
Environmentalists will be working over the next two years, Zigelbaum said, “to raise the bar and create a truly robust, comprehensive and effective green building code.”