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CIB 03/11/2013

Just when we thought the legislation approved in Raleigh couldn’t get any worse on environmental issues, a fine new mess advances in the House. This week in CIB:

  • Legislative Watch: House Bill Mandates Energy IN-Efficiency
  • Administrative Watch: Forget the Map, Just Punch the Accelerator
  • Washington Watch: Obama Names New EPA, Energy, Interior Heads
  • Judicial Watch: Supreme Court Will Hear New Challenge to Contribution Limits
  • Education & Resources: 2013 Green Tie Keynote Speaker Announced; NC Energy Poll

Legislative Watch: House Bill Mandates Energy IN-Efficiency

The special interest favors in Raleigh are getting dumber. At the behest of the Home Builders Association, new legislation is making its way through the N.C. General Assembly which would have the effect of mandating energy IN-efficiency in new construction all across the state.

Nope, we’re not indulging in parody. HB 120, “Building Inspections/Local Consistency”, would block any comprehensive update to the state energy code until 2019, and prohibit regular reviews of that and other related codes (electrical, plumbing, etc.) on anything other than a six-year cycle thereafter. By comparison, model national codes are regularly reviewed and updated twice as often, on a three-year cycle.

The bill also takes other problematic steps, including barring counties and cities from conducting regular building inspections of residences, beyond any minimum standard required in statewide building codes. In other words, if a city or county (say Greensboro or Durham) identifies a widespread local problem of shoddy housing maintenance and is prepared to invest the resources to deal with it comprehensively, they would be blocked from doing so by action of HB 120.

When you examine the implications of this bill on the ground, it gives the clear picture of being the latest in this session’s rapid-fire series of “duh” legislative moments.

The Home Builders Association fought against updating energy efficiency standards as proposed by the International Code Council and adopted in other states, and this bill continues in that line. Apparently, there’s a great resistance among some in our state to adopting modern, energy-efficient construction standards. Since homes and other buildings are designed to last for decades, this would mean locking new home buyers into increasingly antiquated energy use demands, with many new homes proving outdated by the time their construction is completed. Those families will end up paying unnecessarily high energy bills for years or decades.

Fortunately, that’s not a universal opinion among builders. A growing “green builder” movement has stepped out to help move the industry forward in some cases. It’s unfortunate that the legislative agenda of the organization that purports to speak for the industry as a whole still appears to be driven by a more short-sighted vision.

HB 120 was approved by the House Regulatory Reform committee last week and will appear on the House floor tonight (Monday, March 11).

In other legislative news last week, SB 10, the commission-stripping bill as made somewhat less bad by House amendments, was approved by the full House and tossed back to the Senate. The competing versions will now go to a Senate-House conference committee.

Administrative Watch: Forget the Map, Just Punch the Accelerator

The state Mining and Energy Commission met last week, and the results seem unlikely to please advocates for public involvement and a deliberative process forward on fracking. While the detailed implications are still undergoing review and analysis, the direction of commission leadership seems to be: Less public comment, and even faster layout of the final rules. MEC Chair James Womack suggested that the MEC may need to ask the General Assembly to waive various aspects of the rulemaking process, namely review by the legislative Rules Review Commission and the public comment period in order to meet the fast tracked 2014 rulemaking deadline, and the proposed (in SB76) 2015 permitting deadline. CIB will be back next Monday with more in-depth comment.

Washington Watch: Obama Names New EPA, Energy, Interior Heads

Over the past couple of weeks, President Obama has named three new Cabinet heads who will play key roles in implementing his environmental policies.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Gina McCarthy is currently EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation–a powerful and technically challenging post over an agency subdivision which handles much of the heavy lifting in the hottest field of environmental regulation in Washington. In that post, she helped design and implement the new Mercury and Air Toxics regulations, regarded by many as a signature environmental achievement of the EPA during the Obama first term. However, she is also well-regarded by most industry commenters who have been heard from thus far. No doubt both factors played into her nomination to head the agency as a whole. Ezra Klein of the Washington Postobserves, “The vast majority of President Obama’s second-term agenda on climate change and energy will go through the [EPA]. And now we know who Obama wants to carry it all out: Gina McCarthy.”

Energy Dept.: Ernest Moniz is an MIT professor and Nobel prize winner, following Obama’s previous pick of another high-tech academic, Steven Chu, for the post of Secretary of Energy. The buzz on Moniz is that he reflects Obama’s apparently sincere belief that there is a role for both more nuclear power and progress toward greater reliance on renewable resources in our energy future. For all Moniz’ undoubted intellectual capacity, we suspect this choice is likely to be met more warmly by nuclear proponents than by the green energy movement. Admittedly, that may be more a case of who has the higher expectations of this president.

Interior Dept.: Sally Jewel is president of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), the West Coast-based outdoors equipment manufacturer with a long history of involvement with and contributions to environmental work. She has also served on the board of directors of the National Parks Conservation Association, an active advocacy group with a history of work including litigation to block ill-advised projects and agency decisions impacting the parks. Jewel has generally drawn Senatorial praise, with some exceptions by those who favor a more exploitative approach to even the most sensitive federal lands. While declaring herself (of course) in accord with the Obama “all of the above” energy policy, during her Senate committee confirmation hearing Jewel made special note of the Obama goal of doubling renewable electricity generation by 2020 and using the Interior Department’s scientific resources to combat climate change. If confirmed, she will replace outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Naturally, one Senator–Lisa Murkowski, R-AK–has announced her threat to hold up the Jewel nomination as a means of trying to coerce the Interior Department to approve a pet project, a proposed road through a national wildlife refuge in Alaska.

Judicial Watch: Supreme Court Will Hear New Challenge to Contribution Limits

Clean election advocates are bracing for the potential of another shoe dropping onto the head of democratic government from the five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Roberts Court’s 2010 decision in the case of Citizens United v. SEC swept away a century of established law by declaring that the electioneering independent expenditures of corporations could not be restricted to a greater degree than those of natural persons. In that decision, the Court did not directly address the issue of legal limits on direct campaign contributions. Now, however, the time for that monkey wrench to the gears of campaign finance regulation may have come.

In a case from Alabama, the Court will hear an individual’s challenge to limits on the total amounts he can contribute to individual candidates, party committees, and PACs combined. While he is not challenging the present $2,500 limit on an individual person or PAC’s contributions to a single candidate, that is small comfort. The group Citizens United hadn’t asked the Court to rule on the question of whether electioneering expenditures by corporations could be regulated more strictly than those of individuals, either, but that didn’t stop five members of the Court from deciding to take up the question on their own initiative (in violation of all normal procedures of appellate law).

On the other hand, the Supreme Court may just not yet have five members ready to take up this particular question of the individual contribution limit to a single candidate. Late last month, it declined another case from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the Appeals Court refused to overturn the century-old federal ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates. (The Fourth Circuit includes North Carolina.)

With a Supreme Court that seems to feel so little bound by established legal precedent generally, every court session has become an adventure in “What will they think of next?”

Education & Resources: 2013 Green Tie Keynote Speaker Announced; NC Energy Poll

2013 Green Tie Keynote Speaker Announced: NCLCV announced today the keynote speaker for its Annual Green Tie Awards Dinner. The 2013 event will feature John Campbell, WasteZero Board Chair. Mr. Campbell will speak about his experience of working at the intersection of the environment, business and public policy. He will reinforce NCLCV’s belief that a sound environment, a strong economy, and healthy communities should and can coexist. Each year, NCLCV presents the Green Tie Awards to recognize and honor state legislators and leaders who work to protect North Carolina’s remarkable natural resources and our quality of life.

John Campbell is an entrepreneur with a track record of success who has now turned himself toward the goal of building the world’s preeminent waste reduction company. With Mr. Campbell at the helm, WasteZero is working with cities through innovation to recycle and reduce waste, something all citizens regardless of politics should enthusiastically support. For this reason, NCLCV considers John Campbell an excellent choice for the keynote speaker at the 2013 Annual Green Tie Awards Dinner. The event is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29, 6 – 9pm at the Downtown Raleigh Sheraton. Registration and sponsorship information available here.

NC Energy Poll: A new statewide poll commissioned by the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) of North Carolinians’ opinions on energy alternatives showed solar energy the most popular, and nuclear the least.

While all the energy sources polled garnered at least majority support (thus, the enduring political popularity of so-called “all of the above” energy strategies), there was a wide gap between the most and least popular options.

Solar led with 88% support compared to less than 10% opposition and just 2% undecided (all numbers rounded); followed by energy efficiency at 87% support, 9% opposed, 3% unsure. Natural gas at 83% support, onshore wind 81% support, biomass 79% support, and offshore wind 76% all also ranked high.

Trailing the rest of the field by 20 to 30+ percentage points were nuclear at 54% support, 34% opposed, 13% unsure; and coal at 56% support, 36% opposed, 8% unsure.

NCSEA’s poll was clearly geared to be of interest to state legislators regardless of party, as it included some results by party identification of respondents. That showed that more than 75% of registered Republicans agreed that state leaders and elected officials should seek more energy from alternative or renewable sources. (Support for that question was 89% among Democrats and 82% with independents.)

Significantly to one key legislative issue under debate again this year, the poll found that almost 70% of voters support the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio (REPS) standard. That’s the law requiring that power companies include minimum percentages of renewable energy generation in their electric power mix, and energy efficiency efforts in their total demand planning.

The poll was conducted by professional polling firm Fallon Research, which has also worked for business groups such as the N.C. Realtors Association and N.C. Home Builders Association. The sample size was 803 registered voters, and the margin of error plus or minus 3.45%.

NCSEA’s news release and summary can be accessed here  and the full poll results with questions and numbers here.

That’s our report for this week.

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