On March 3, the International Code Council (ICC) Board of Directors voted to eliminate governmental member voting from the final determination of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), despite strenuous objections from local, state, and the federal government members whose voices will now be severely restricted.

More than 200 individuals and organizations submitted written comments to the ICC regarding the proposal to convert the IECC to a standard.

Despite the short public comment period, lasting only three weeks over the winter holiday season, more than 200 individuals and organizations submitted written comments to the ICC regarding the proposal to convert the IECC to a standard. Of those comments, over 75% were opposed, with the majority of those submitted by local government representatives. In total, 28 states were directly represented, often with multiple cities weighing in; additionally, the National League of Cities, U.S. Council of Mayors, National Association of State Energy Officials, and Urban Sustainability Director’s Network expressed opposition on behalf of the 2,000-plus cities, states, and local governments that they represent. This level of engagement from local governmental officials is an extension of the dramatic voter turnout in fall of 2019, which resulted in a model energy code that was more than 10% more efficient than the previous version. This increased and continued participation is something that should be celebrated, not censored.

This increased and continued participation is something that should be celebrated, not censored.

In addition to the governmental members who weighed in, organizations such as AIA, ASHRAE, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy also questioned the reasoning behind the decision. ICC’s own Sustainability Membership Council voted overwhelming to reject the proposal, and the ICC Major Jurisdiction Committee also expressed opposition to the move. The House Energy and Commerce Committee submitted its own series of letters that expressed concerns overs ICC’s relationship with the home builder industry.

Why this decision was important

Currently, while anyone may submit a code change proposal, and industry representatives are active participants in the committee hearings that comprise the code development cycle, only governmental representatives are able to vote on the final version of the code. Per ICC, this critical process “leaves the final determination of code provisions in the hands of public safety officials who, with no vested financial interest, can legitimately represent the public interest.” Now that final determination will be made by a small group of people, with governmental voters as a minority.

ICC’s press release announcing this change emphasized the governmental official makeup of the Board, and that “government officials will have the strongest voice on the [new IECC Development] committee,” but these are small concessions when comparted to the thousands who are no longer afforded a direct vote. Additionally, the release touts the prior successes of the IECC regarding increases in efficiency requirements, successes that were brought about directly by the votes of governmental members, in spite of frequent industry moves to minimize their impact.

While this decision comes with assurances not previously provided, including a revised scope that “could [emphasis added] address electric vehicles, electrification and decarbonization” (presumably similar to approved proposals that were previously overturned), and “optional requirements aimed at achieving net zero energy,” the fact remains that proponents of this change were primarily composed of home builders and members of the fossil fuel industry. These same proponents were also the authors of challenges to the immense energy efficiency gains in the last cycle that the ICC now calls a success.

Potential impact

While the only guaranteed impact is a code that is less representative of the voices of its users and administrators, the potential impact is far greater. As mentioned, the proponents of this change were highly aligned with opposition to efficiency gains in the past, leaving the amount of progress in the code an open question. Despite assurances to the contrary from Dominic Sims, CEO of the Code Council, that “the Code Council is committed to furthering the progress the IECC has made to date and ensuring our energy code continues to meet the needs of governments around the world to advance their energy efficiency goals,” the press release language included caveats with “could” and “optional” peppered throughout. While efficiency increases are not guaranteed in the existing process, past results have shown that local governments want more efficiency and voted accordingly.

Next steps

Despite this unfortunate decision, IMT and the Energy-Efficient Codes Coalition will continue to push forward and promote adoption of the 2021 IECC, which received so much support. It is our hope that those who voted to make this version of the code such a success will transition to become local advocates for its adoption. This code was indeed a success story, but no real impact can occur until states and local jurisdictions put these new provisions into play. If you are interested in learning more about the role you can play, reach out to amy.boyce@imt.org for more information.

Program Area(s):

Codes

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Associate Director, Codes and Technical Strategy

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