Those of you who attended HEAL’s Fall Party last year may recall that I spoke about the future of fighting for clean air in Utah.
That night, I predicted that as clean air advocates and officials began to push for reducing emissions from Utah’s buildings, we would see pushback from well-funded and organized interest groups.
Well, I’m not happy about it, but I was right. The last few weeks have been depressing.
Utah’s homebuilders are now openly fighting against clean air. In response, HEAL and our allies are determined to highlight their opposition, take them on — and win.
More below, but given that last year’s Fall Party was a chance for clairvoyant policy predictions, shouldn’t you attend this year’s party, on Wed. Nov. 18 at the State Room in downtown Salt Lake? We have tickets available at several price ranges (including a $25 discount option for those who need it), a terrific guest speaker in writer and explorer Gretel Ehrlich, and this year I might just give out WINNING LOTTERY NUMBERS.
(Note: I’m not giving out winning lottery numbers.)
OK, so let me tell you two annoying stories.
First, over the past year, a body called the Uniform Building Code Commission studied recommendations from an international body that periodically suggests updates to make homes safer and more efficient. The commission ultimately accepted many of those recommendations and the resulting package it forwarded to the legislature would make Utah’s new homes use 20 percent less energy — and thus put out about 20 percent fewer emissions from their furnaces.
More efficient building codes are one of the smartest public policy tools available. They do add several hundred dollars to the cost of a new home, but that investment quickly pays for itself — in just a few years — because the homeowner has cheaper utility bills. And the good news for all of us is that for the life of a home, potentially centuries not decades, that home is emitting fewer pollutants from its furnace. Win-win, as the kids say.
(Note: The kids don’t say that)
So, a no brainer right? Not so fast. When those building code recommendations hit a legislative committee, they balked. “It is disruptive and costly to different types of businesses as we make these changes,” said Rep. Brad Wilson, who, um, is a homebuilder. Not a single representative mentioned clean air or climate (more efficient buildings also emit less carbon) and the committee voted to table the building codes, although they may come back later.
Time for annoying story #2! In September, the Air Quality Board voted to require that all hot water heaters bought in the state after 2017 be “low NOx.” It’s a simple change to the burner of the heater which, incredibly, would reduce the emissions of the pollutant NOx from the entire buildings sector by more than 30 percent once Utahns replace all their old water heaters.
And it costs no more than current hot water heaters. A free — free! — change in technology that would reap big clean air benefits.
Well, all rules passed by state panels like the Air Quality Board go through what is typically a routine review by a legislative committee. Typically. But not last Friday, when that committee balked — after Taz Biesinger of the Utah Homebuilders Association said he didn’t think air quality officials should make rules about appliances. That, he said, should be included in the building code updates.
And, so, because of opposition from the homebuilders association, Utah won’t require cleaner water heaters. Because that should happen as part of building code updates. Which the homebuilder association also opposes.
So, these issues aren’t dead yet. The legislature can (but doesn’t have to) take these two issues back up again. We still have a chance to stand up for clean air — and let the homebuilders association know that their narrow, short-term self interest shouldn’t prevail over the health of our children, our elderly — and our planet.
You’ll hear soon from our Senior Policy Associate, Ashley, about how you can help fight for cleaner homes. For now, if you’re fired up, please consider sending a letter to the Deseret News in response to their story about the water heater decision. Use your own words to explain why you disagree with the legislature siding with home builders instead of clean air. And send it to email@example.com.
This one isn’t over yet, folks. We promise.
HEAL Utah Executive Director & Insulation Proponent
P.S. We’d love to see you at our Fall Party! Click here for more info — and tickets!