Last week, the discussion of more stringent minimum performance requirements for buildings was bracketed by a pair of comments that were almost certainly missed by the vast majority of people in this country, whether they are much interested in the subject or not.
The first comment found its way into the weekly column of a business writer for a daily newspaper in a familiar Southwestern city as he was discussing the endless and highly predictable hand wringing taking place there over impending state regulation changes that will soon be ramping up energy efficiency levels for buildings, much to the "dread" of those in the development and building community.
He quoted one of the oft-retread and oft-repeated, but still highly popular, excuses cited by industry spokespeople as they shamelessly search for skirts to hide behind while groping for anything on which to attach an anchor for the status quo. Right on schedule, the old tried and true "bad timing" whine was taken for another lap around the track of public discourse.
Along the way they mixed in a dose of another favorite complaint, accusing decision makers of "kicking the industry while it's down" and the writer also reported that some in the industry viewed the initiatives as evidence of "the power of the green lobby." Hinting that lawsuits could be in the offing, one spokesperson pointed out that "a lot of the provisions exceed federal mandates."
There was no mention in the article whether the spokesman had acknowledged the fact that those same federal mandates are minimum requirements and that any jurisdiction has the right to aim higher if they feel that doing so would be in the best interest of the majority of its citizens.
Similarly, there was no observation of the fact that when building permits were being issued at an all time high just a few short years ago no industry spokespeople stepped up to suggest that it might be a good time to increase performance requirements while everybody was riding fat and happy on the gravy train.
Curiously, the piece did include a quote from the city's chief building official in reference to the municipality's energy conservation code (even more stringent than the impending state regulation), which he admits is not always achieved on new construction projects, either commercial or residential. He was quoted as saying, "If we can't meet that [the city code's goal of 30 percent over federal mandate] without causing great consternation in the industry, we may have to tweak it."
Such a blatant expression of pandering to special business interest must be particularly hard to swallow for folks trying to make a difference in a state that consistently ranks near or at the bottom (as in 45th through 50th) of practically every meaningful list measuring quality of life in categories ranging from average household income, to high school graduation rates, to drunk driving fatalities, and many more than we can list.
Heaven forbid that any regulation-be it local or statewide-in a place such as that, should exceed the absolute lowest common denominator!
Meanwhile, the local building industry lobbied hard for the extension of a partial moratorium (50%) on impact fees set to expire next month. The moratorium, though highly contentious when passed in 2009, has proved to be a "game changer" in the effort to entice builders to locate new projects within the city limits rather than seeking cheaper alternatives beyond the city's boundaries.
Under terms of the moratorium, green building projects-those that meet certification standards of the local building association's green building program or LEED-were given a tremendous boost because they have enjoyed a total waiver of impact fees, certainly a huge incentive for local developers and builders to go the green route. The city council took up the measure last Tuesday and, in an act of compromise, voted to extend the moratorium for an additional six months.
While this and countless other public policy dramas were playing out around the country in local and state forums, the International Code Council (ICC) raised a sail in an ongoing effort to move the ship of sustainability out of the harbor and into the open water of jurisdictional choice.
In a weeklong set of open meetings conducted near Chicago, the Public Comment Hearing Committee, whose members had been seated to discuss and make recommendations on the more than 1,400 initial public comments which had been received by the ICC on the first draft (Public Version 1.0, March 2010) of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC), worked through a mountainous schedule. Considering each comment that had been submitted, along with hours of additional verbal input from representatives of interested parties (including trade associations, product manufacturers, government agencies, professional groups and a wide assortment of others), the committee methodically ground its way through seven arduous days of deliberations.
On Saturday, which marked the eighth morning, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel a day sooner than expected, the Committee completed its work by chewing through a final set of general comments, heaved a collective sigh of relief and then sat back to consider what had been accomplished. Their efforts, all of which had been webcast live, had moved the proposed IGCC a step closer to completion, though there will be two additional future comment periods and respective hearings to process them (in May and November of 2011) before ICC will offer the final version for adoption in early 2012.
The committee members were then asked to offer any final thoughts on the progress that had been made. Several expressed their gratitude for being included in the process and their satisfaction at having not only preserved but refined (and quite possibly improved), the original document.
Reflection by the group was sober but hopeful, as best summed up by committee member Chris Mathis who concluded his personal comments by reminding everyone of a well-known Chinese proverb:
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.
I have yet to come across a single industry that doesn't claim to be the most over-regulated, most persecuted industry in history. While there are always pioneers in every field who never tire of reaching higher, sadly, they are the exception. They are outnumbered by those who not only eschew raising the bar but who actually fight against any change to the minimum requirement that will cause them inconvenience or cost them a penny.
They say that perfection is the enemy of the good. There is never a perfect time; there never will be. We need to stop dragging anchors and hoist more sails.