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The Human Side of Oil

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

I am an energy efficiency advocate. I make my living urging the nation to use products that advance the energy efficiency of buildings. Obviously, the more polyiso used, the better as far as I am concerned. Yet the broader goal is product non-specific, weaning our country from reliance on fossil fuels, the use of which has dramatic environmental, economic, and national security consequences. Politicians see this issue mostly through the prism of one product.


We all have, at one time or another, used the oil industry's size and omnipresence and yes, profits, to express national frustration about our nation's energy destiny. Demonizing the oil industry with harsh rhetoric is a popular political sport. But there is another side to petroleum – the human side.

This past week, 70 PIMA members and I were guests of Conoco-Phillips Corporation at their oil refinery in Borger, Texas. I have been to chemical facilities of various types around the country but the size of this refinery boggled the imagination. It receives approximately 191,000 barrels of crude per day, producing mostly transportation fuels (gasoline, aviation, diesel).

During this tour we were briefed by a wide range of experts including top executives, plant managers and lab researchers. The complexity of the refining process was overseen by a computerized command center that rivals a Star Trek movie set with committed Board Operators working long hours in a windowless environment. We also learned that Conoco Philips is working on cutting edge energy solutions such as biofuels and wind energy storage.

The overwhelming impression I received was one of hard working professionals, committed to the safe 24/7 operation of this critical facility, who surely recognized the critical reliance the country has on their presently produced products. And who are looking for new energy sources for the future.

What's my point? Petroleum is the basis for so many products from pharmaceuticals to insecticides to insulation. Half of refined products go to something other than gasoline, in fact many items that contribute to transportation, manufacturing, and building energy efficiency. As an energy advocate, I am not saying that next time you see an oil company executive you need to give him or her a hug, what I am saying is that we need to appreciate the human element of a very complex industry.

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Only 1500 Proposed Changes!

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

This week I will travel to Dallas to participate in the International Code Council (ICC) hearings to further develop the proposed (PV 2.0) International Green Construction Code (IgCC). The focus will be the resolution of just a few proposed changes submitted by interested parties.

A few? Try 1500 proposed changes.

Building professionals from around the country will debate these 1500 proposals in the span of one week.

When complete (the IgCC is set to be adopted in November 2011), the IgCC will be a recognized, consensus based building code "linking sustainability with safety and performance” that will be an overlay to the existing I-codes.

An admirable goal that is fraught with challenges. How do we define terms like " life cycle” or "low emission” or "zero energy performance index?” How tight should the buildings be? What thermal performance should be expected? What fire retardants should be permitted?

As a non "techie” I look forward to listening learning as well as advocating during this highly technical week long drama,. This effort by the ICC to set out comprehensive goals for 21st century commercial buildings deserves the broad support of the design, construction, and building owner communities. The question is how can 1500 proposals devolve into this green construction document that will be our new national standard for high performance buildings?

Stay tuned!

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Running with the “Code Rats”

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

I love buildings. I am a lawyer by training, not an engineer or design professional, so this is a love that has evolved over time, from my work over the past twenty years on energy efficiency and from seeing the many ways building design can impact people's lives.

While I respect and admire the architects, consultants, roofing contractors, facility managers, and all the other committed construction and property management professionals, it is the "Code Rats,” who currently have my full and undivided attention.

"Code Rats,” a term very affectionately given by one of their own, to the individuals participating in an almost continuous and for most of us invisible process known as "code development.” Building Codes. Energy Codes. Fire Codes. You name a performance element of a building and there is a code provision to address it. ICC. ASHRAE. NFPA. These are the code development and standard setting groups that "code rats” study and spend much of their lives working with to achieve building and design standards that provide safety, comfort, and increasingly, high environmental performance.

I am not a "techie” and have only limited experienced at code hearings. That is about to change as I prepare to attend the IgCC hearings in Dallas next week. What I can say is that the dedicated professionals from all different stakeholder organizations (local government to product manufacturers to building owners) who spend literally months and sometimes even years developing the building codes deserve much praise and appreciation from those of us who inhabit the built environment.

But I think they are happy just being called "Code Rats.”

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