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Whither Climate Policy?

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

When I first graduated from law school, I worked for a Republican Member of Congress as a legislative counsel. During my tenure on the Hill I became friends with Sherwood Boehlert, the Chief of Staff for another Republican Congressman. I stayed here in Washington and Sherry Boehlert moved back to New York where he was elected to Congress for twelve terms. He chaired the House Science Committee and was a Republican leader on issues such as water quality, infrastructure, and energy efficiency.

I raise Congressman Boehlert's name for two reasons. One is because he recently penned an editorial in the New York Times decrying the Republican party's apparent disregard for the science behind the climate change issue, and secondly because I believe this aversion to dealing with climate by both parties is having the unintended consequence of slowing our existing energy efficiency initiatives just when they need to be accelerated.

Proposed 2012 budget cuts in Department of Energy and EPA programs such as Energy Star, State Energy Programs, Building Energy Codes and Federal Energy Management are indicative of retrenching when we should in fact be moving forward. A proposed bill introduced by Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Portman (R-OH), Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011 contains a broad package of low-cost tools that would reduce barriers for businesses, homeowners and consumers looking to adopt off-the-shelf energy efficiency technologies that will save them money. A broad coalition including PIMA supports this bill but serious questions remain as to whether this Congress will address energy efficiency in any comprehensive manner.

Which brings me back to climate policy. Reasonable people can disagree on the best way to address this issue. What is truly disturbing is how many elected officials have decided to ignore 97% of the world's climate scientists and our country's own National Academy of Sciences, who have recently concluded that "scientific evidence that the earth is warming is now overwhelming.”

As Congressman Boehlert points out in his editorial, Ronald Reagan trusted science and moved the country toward a worldwide phase out of ozone depleting chemicals. Ignoring climate as a key driver for our need to enhance energy efficiency in the U.S. is a little like trying to climb the top of Mt. Everest with no oxygen mask- you may get to the top without it but the journey is more secure with it.

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Reflections on California’s Infatuation with Reflectivity

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

California is an amazing state – high GDP, movie stars, Silicon Valley, and a terrific climate. And, it maintains energy policies that put its per capita energy consumption at a fraction of other states in the nation. Through an aggressive regulatory framework for energy efficiency in buildings, coupled with clean burning gasoline requirements, the state has created a benchmark that other states often replicate. One of those benchmarks is requiring reflective roofs on all residential and commercial buildings as per Title 24, which also requires minimum levels of insulation – a perfect partnering to create high performance roof systems…

…perfect up until now.

California has proposed changing the existing Title 24 reflectivity requirement for commercial buildings that would, for the first time, give greater credit for reflectivity than insulation when it comes to efficiency. At least it appears that way in the initial proposal just published by the California Energy Commission, which limits the amount of insulation that may be used as a trade off with reflectivity. In addition, California's minimum R value for rerroofing commercial buildings, far from exceeding national code minimums, is lower than ASHRAE 90.1 2007.

Fortunately a coalition of roofing industry groups (PIMA included) is drawing the Commission's attention to this issue.

In a report titled "California's Energy Future-The View to 2050”, scientists from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory concluded that California can meet its goal to reduce its greenhouse emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. However, California may not meet this lofty goal if the state fails to keep its eye on the component that delivers efficiency day and night- 24/7- thermal insulation in buildings.

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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.

Oil.

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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