Wednesday, December 21, 2011

ABQ City Council Rolls Back the Energy Conservation Code

This is a post by contributing writer, Lora Lucero, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

City council 1


Monday night, as expected, the Albuquerque City Council voted (5-4) to roll back the City’s energy conservation code which many of the same councilors had supported in 2009.  (See, Building Code Backpedal by Margaret Wright in The Alibi, October 6-10, 2011, for good discussion of the background.  http://alibi.com/news/38995/Building-Code-Backpedal.html  )

What has changed in the past two years to change their minds and votes?  Politics, pure and simple.  Monday night was a purely opportunistic vote which the building industry and its minions (NAIOP, NM Homebuilders Association, and the ABQ Chamber of Commerce) sought after the state weakened its building code in June.  Both Governor Martinez and Mayor Berry wanted to repeal those “pesky” regulations, to the delight of the building industry.

Why should anyone care about the R-value or the IECC code or whether this or that fixture is required in a new or remodeled building?  As a layperson, I found much of the testimony Monday night very boring.  But one doesn’t need to be an electrical contractor or otherwise engaged in the construction business to know that the consequences of the discussion will truly impact the future of my children and grandchildren.

We’re not only talking about their future utility bills, but the quality of life and the environment that we’re consigning them to with our decisions today. Yep, the city’s energy conservation code and climate change are connected. But that’s for a future post.

The city’s current energy conservation code (which resulted from the work of a task force where the building industry was well-represented) requires more expenditure upfront to obtain higher energy efficiency results over the long-term.  The first home purchaser realizes a direct savings in his monthly utility bill, as well as the final occupant in 30-40-50 years from now.   Paying less to the utility company is a good thing, right?  Not if your focus is on the pocketbooks of those industry folks sitting in the audience.  

And there is the rub. Do elected officials in 2011 have any responsibility for the health and safety of future residents in 2050-2060?   Commonsense and an appreciation of intergenerational justice would demand that they do.  But at least five city councilors (along with the current Governor and the Construction Industries Commission) appear to have blinders on.  Short-term profits tip the scales over the future welfare of those who  aren’t sitting in the council chambers.

Council President Trudy Jones made the point that nothing in the ordinance rolling back the city’s energy conservation code would prevent a homebuilder from using the highest energy efficiency measures – building a gold-plated home if he wanted. She favored giving the builder the opportunity to choose.  Personal freedoms and a marketplace free from regulatory burden were the chief concerns of these five councilors, not our grandchildren’s rights.   The arguments in favor of the rollback were short-sighted at best, and downright disingenuous at worse.  The most cynical argument made during public testimony was the builder who said if the energy conservation code was rolled back, he could then build apartments which would help get the homeless out from under the bridges at night.

Nothing could have changed the vote last night, their minds were set.  The homebuilders should be pleased with the holiday gift they’ve been given this year.  Our children --- not so much.  I hope a lump of coal goes into the stocking of each of the councilors who decided to ignore the future.

Councilors who voted in favor of rolling back the code included - Don Harris (dharris@cabq.gov), Trudy Jones (trudyjones@cabq.gov), Michael D. Cook (mcook@cabq.gov), Dan Lewis (danlewis@cabq.gov), and Brad Winter (bwinter@cabq.gov)

December 21, 2011 at 04:06 PM in City of Albuquerque, Energy, Environment, Guest Blogger, Lora Lucero, Contributing Writer | Permalink | Comments (0)