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Jill Buck

CALGREEN …Public Policy the Way it Should Be

Warning: the following blog will contain the word “green.”

If the terms “climate change” and “cap and trade” make you cringe…relax, this isn’t about either. It’s about a new policy called CALGREEN that was recently adopted by the Building Standard’s Commission, and it will make the world a better place for your children…yes, it’s really *that* important.

On October 14, 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger defied some of the most powerful environmental interest groups in California and the nation by vetoing AB888, sponsored by Assemblyman Lieu. The subject matter of the bill was to create statute requiring green building standards, relying heavily upon the standards outlined in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. The USGBC holds annual conferences that draw over 20,000 people to one venue for a week…I daresay that’s a few more people than I’ve seen at any political party conventions. My point is, the USGBC is big and powerful. It was no small thing that this bill was vetoed, and the Governor deserves a lot of credit for doing that. His veto paved the way for a regulatory policy process that is far better than what could have been achieved through this legislation, and I believe the end result of that process will be very good for California and our business community.
It’s important to note that there is nothing inherently wrong with the USGBC’s LEED standards. On the contrary, their guidelines for creating energy efficient, sustainable buildings are very well-researched and are backed by some of the world’s top architects. However, there are some shortcomings to the LEED program that would make it inappropriate for statutory purposes in California. First, it’s very costly to pay for accreditation; the fees are quite steep. The USGBC is a nonprofit organization, and, besides grants from the government, they fund their staffing and DC offices, in large part, through fees builders pay to be accredited.  Second, LEED standards favor building materials that are not locally sourced in California, which means higher costs and greater emissions to transport materials from outside our state. Last, LEED standards do not address California-specific issues that must be incorporated into any responsible CA building code, e.g. seismic conditions, etc. The Governor’s veto message on AB888 is worth reading, as it clearly defines his perspective in protecting California interests.
Since that veto, the California Building Standards Commission (BSC) has worked with industry leaders to develop “the most stringent, environmentally friendly building code standards of any state in the nation,” writes Marisa Lagos of the SF ChronicleAnyone who has trod the Sacramento sidewalks looking for campaign donations will recognize the following line up of organizations involved in creating CALGREEN: Cal Chamber; CA Building Industry Association (CBIA); and CA Business Properties Association (CBPA). Essentially, the regulating body, BSC, worked in collaboration with those who would be regulated, CBPA et al, to develop regulations that won’t break the bank of our building industry, but will conserve water, energy and other natural resources for future generations.
This week, I interviewed Matthew Hargrove, Sr. VP of Governmental Affairs at CBPA regarding CALGREEN, and I think you’ll be enlightened and encouraged by his remarks:
1. How is the BSC’s recent adoption of green building standards good for CA businesses?
If you believe that businesses can achieve profitability through sustainability then all sectors of should benefit by the adoption of CALGREEN.  Those benefits will mainly be seen in lower electrical bills and lower water bills for new buildings. Done correctly and cost-effectively, not only does it help the environment, it will help the bottom line; as they say, be a “win-win.” We have chosen to work closely with the state to ensure that through a consensus-based process with all stakeholders welcome at the table, green building codes are environmentally strict, while remaining cost effective and technologically feasible. Having a clear statewide standard will help our companies avoid unnecessary environmental lawsuits, have more consistent standards across the state so we don’t have to deal with a different code in every jurisdiction, and allow us to meet some of the statewide regulatory mandates that are heading our way.
2. There are those who advocate that states and local governments simply adopt the USGBC’s LEED standards for green building ordinances. Why didn’t the BSC take that route?
The state has a responsibility for writing and maintaining building codes for the state.  In a show of “good government” the state is fulfilling its responsibility to keep the code writing process in the public domain as a basic service of government, which maintains transparency, cost-effectiveness, and technological feasibility. Additionally, many have raised Constitutional issues with the notion of public entities delegating such authority to a closed process. Most builders and policymakers I have spoken with do not believe that GALGREEN and LEED standards are in conflict, and in fact believe that they will be very complimentary of one another. 
3 . A lot of candidates for office will be coming to your organization and Jobs PAC for campaign funding in 2010. For candidates who want to succeed in getting financial backing, what should they know about the BSC’s green building standards?
I cannot speak for Jobs PAC.  However, I think the business community generally hopes that policymakers focus on pragmatic policies that will help create jobs by improving California’s business climate.  CALGREEN is an example of a pragmatic regulatory process that took into account expert opinion from the regulated industry and was critically looked at to make sure it was cost-effective and technologically feasible.

8 Responses to “CALGREEN …Public Policy the Way it Should Be”

  1. Says:

    I always like to say that here at the FlashReport you’ll find the full spectrum of opinion from the center right to the “Jon” right.

    Needless to say that I think during a recession, we shouldn’t be passing regulations that make it more expensive to build in California.

    And let’s be serious, the building community came to the table to work on this project not because they are excited about spending more money to build “green” buildings, but rather because the failure to participate would likely results in more draconian regulations being adopted.

    Public education about the importance of being thoughtful about how we build — that’s good. But a government that is big enough to mandate from far away how you build on your own property is too big.

  2. Says:

    Haha, hey Boss! :)

    There may not be as much room between Jon right and Jill right as you think. :)

    When it comes to environmental issues, I’m in Benjamin Franklin’s camp: “Waste not. Want not.”

    If we can build structures that use less water, less energy, etc., then I hope our children will have more of those resources to use on other things. Conservation can be conservative!

  3. Says:

    If its such a good idea why do you have to force people to adopt it?

    If it is cost effective you don’t have to mandate its use, people will conduct their own cost analysis and thus implement or not.

    Use of government mandates to control the use of private property is the greatest threat to our freedom. Green is the new red!

    “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” – Thomas Jefferson

  4. Says:

    Our building codes serve an important purpose. If we didn’t have them, we might have buildings that don’t meet fire codes, earthquake codes, disability access codes, and so on. Were those codes free to implement? Nope. But they serve a public safety purpose. Same is true with CALGREEN. We live in a state in its 3rd year of drought, and if you didn’t see the fields in the Central Valley this summer, then let me tell you…I know why lettuce is so expensive right now! The fields were dry. If you think that building structures that use less water and use less energy aren’t for the public good, then you are entitled to think that. But I disagree. Over 25% of our state’s natural resources are used by buildings, and our reseources (especially water and energy) are not infinite in amount.

  5. Says:

    Jill, you are making the same argument the left makes, the people don’t know any better so the government needs to make decisions for them. Your same argument “for the public good” can be made to outlaw all sorts of things such as alcohol, big screen TVs, fast food and guns. My argument is: good ideas are adopted by people because they are good ideas, not forced on people by government because you happen to think you know better.

    I have no issue with green building I have issue with government force.

  6. Says:

    Too many regulations….Ms. Buck appears to be pragmatic, but has rolled way, way, way over to the wrong side…the Earth Day whackos can make it sound touchee feelee good, but does any business person, the Chamber of Commerce, opposing scientists ever have a legitimate seat at the table to develop rational energy policy? Hardly…if your a card carrying progressive you get a research grant; if your a Gore cultist you get the grant; if you will lie,cheat or do anything to advance the progressive’s agenda….you surely will get the grant. So what is to be done…root out every enviro whacko for one-on-one debate, attend all committee meetings, policy meetings, regulatory meetings, legislative meetings…..get with it before you reduced to being a helpless, submissive pauper, or at best a urban serf!!!!!

  7. Says:

    Sean, you are correct that the left will often make a similar argument, and they did in this case. AB 888 came from that mindset, and the Governor vetoed it. The process then became much better. It was open, public, on the record, and was shepherded by Cal Chamber and the business industry. They ensured that the regulations would be feasible and reasonable. That wouldn’t have happended if AB 888 had passed and been signed.

    This is where we have to be keen on the issues, and insert a proj-jobs, economically sensible voice into these discussions.

    Otherwise, as you noted, the left will be the only voice on important environmental protection issues. I think conservatives have to intelligently engage in this.

  8. Says:

    Not enough! Commissar Arnold rolled over regulating AIR YOU BREATHE…a greenhouse gas….did he consult business, lots of scientists on both sides of the issue, utility companies, other energy companies, small manufacturing businesses…..I doubt it…

    No sane human could pass these stringent, undefined enviro laws in California unless they believe in a true COMMAND ECONOMY…

    Next on the governor’s agenda….a FIVE YEAR ECONOMIC PLAN ala RED USSR days?