Saturday, January 30, 2010

CALGREEN …Public Policy the Way it Should Be

On October 14, 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger defied some of the most powerful environmental interest groups in California and the nation by vetoing AB 888, 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 Chronicle. Anyone 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.