WA Building Code Council votes to protect strong clean energy building rules, despite gas industry legal tactics

Amendments to statewide energy codes for new residential and commercial buildings will ensure they're among the most climate- and health-friendly in the nation, and are insulated against gas industry legal attacks.
November 30, 2023

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Homes, buildings and office spaces are Washington’s fastest growing source of climate pollution — largely because they are heated with gas appliances that burn (and leak) methane gas, a climate super-polluter. But our built environment also represents a huge opportunity for progress.

That’s why last year the Washington State Building Code Council (SBCC) put most new construction on the path to less-polluting buildings by requiring that builders install electric heat pumps. Heat pumps — which provide both heating and cooling in the same unit —run up to three times more efficiently than gas furnaces, and builders are widely expected to choose them in new construction as they often already do.

Seeing a threat to their profits, the gas industry ran a relentless series of legal challenges to cities and states pursuing cleaner, more efficient homes — including Washington’s new building codes. Thankfully, after builders and energy experts pushed back, the SBCC voted on November 28th to adopt slight changes to statewide energy codes for new residential and commercial buildings, ensuring that they are among the most climate and health friendly in the nation. The codes will require new homes and buildings to achieve the same total energy performance as buildings built with electric heat pumps while allowing builders flexibility to choose appliances.

Gas furnaces, water heaters and stoves also emit pollutants that are harmful to health — especially for children — including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. This week’s vote by the SBCC supports the necessary move for new homes and buildings to run on Washington state’s clean and relatively low-cost electricity. All-electric homes save Washingtonians $1,000 per year over the lifetime of the HVAC equipment, according to the Washington Department of Commerce.

The amendments that the SBCC adopted are designed to safeguard Washington’s codes against legal challenge. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is considering rehearing its overreaching decision earlier this year claiming the City of Berkeley’s restriction on installing polluting gas infrastructure in new buildings was preempted by a federal law. The lawsuit on Berkeley’s ordinance was financially backed by SoCalGas, the largest gas utility in the country. A similar lawsuit aiming to block Washington’s new building codes — filed by Washington gas utility & building developer plaintiffs including Northwest Natural and Avista — was voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs in August.

Hundreds of Northwest Washington residents spoke up last year in support of the clean, efficient building rules. We applaud the SBCC’s decision to uphold the intent of the new construction codes in the face of fossil fuel industry opposition.

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