One overlooked election tidbit: GOP gains in state legislatures (and governors’ offices) will throw a major wrench into efforts to slow climate change. What follows is an explanation on why and how.

Basically, it’s all about buildings. The energy used to power commercial and residential buildings is responsible for 38 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – emissions that worsen climate change.

Rulemaking is not sexy, but in this case, the rules behind how buildings are designed and run have a huge impact on climate change. And this is why there is about to be a very big problem.

The efficiency of buildings is governed by rules written by an organization called ASHRAE. But those rules must be adopted separately be each state. And 17 states have energy codes for commercial buildings that are ten years behind the most current version.

The code has been updated four times since 1999. But failure by states to keep pace is causing a massive amount of energy waste and therefore worsening climate change. More numbers on this further on.

First, a look at where the rubber meets the road. The GOP gained control in 12 states with badly outdated energy codes. Republicans will no doubt do their best to freeze the energy codes once they take office in these states in January, or dramatically slow what is an already glacially slow adoption process. This means more coal burned, more carbon emissions, more dependence on foreign fossil fuels and accelerated climate change.

Here’s the breakdown. (This covers commercial building codes only. The story is worse regarding residential building codes)

State and GOP Gain Energy Code To Be Frozen 2009 Census Est.
Alabama House and Senate 1999 ASHRAE  4.7 million
Colorado Senate  1999 ASHRAE    5 million
Minnesota House and Senate   2004 ASHRAE 5.2 million
Michigan House and GOV 2001 ASHRAE 9.9 million
New Mexico GOV 2004 ASHRAE 2 million
North Carolina House and Senate 2004 ASHRAE 9.3 million
Ohio House and GOV 2004 ASHRAE 11.5 million
Oklahoma GOV 2001 ASHRAE 3.6 million
Tennessee GOV 2004 ASHRAE 6.2 million
Wyoming GOV 1999 ASHRAE 544,270
Wisconsin House Senate and GOV 2004 ASHRAE  5.6 million
The NY Senate may  flip 2001 ASHRAE 19.5 million

Combined, the states in the chart above represent 27 percent of the U.S. population that may now go years without any further updates. This will have an enormous impact when it comes to climate change. The just-released 2010 version of the code is estimated to slash energy use by 30 percent compared to the 2004 version. For states like Michigan or Colorado that have an especially outdated code or don’t even have a statewide code, the energy savings are much, much larger.

Another eight states where Republicans gained power will likely see energy codes frozen at the 2007 levels. Put together the list above and below and energy codes will be frozen in states that represent 42 percent of the population —  some 130 million people.

State and GOP Gain Energy Code To Be Frozen 2009 Census Est.
Florida GOV 2007 ASHRAE 18.5 million
Indiana House 2007 ASHRAE 6.4 million
Iowa House and GOV 2007 ASHRAE 3 million
Kansas GOV 2007 ASHRAE 2.8 million
Maine House, Senate and GOV 2007 ASHRAE 1.3 million
Montana House 2007 ASHRAE 974,989
New Hampshire House and Senate 2007 ASHRAE 1.3 million
Pennsylvania House and GOV 2007 ASHRAE 12.6 million

It gets worse.

Falsely attacked by Republicans for all kinds of reasons, cap and trade is not the root of  evil socialism, but a market-based approach to control pollution and in the case of CO2, signals energy users to reduce energy use. Fun fact Republicans don’t want you to know: Acid rain was largely eliminated as a pollution problem because of a cap and trade program.

Second fun fact Republicans don’t want you to know: There are actually already three regional CO2 cap and trade programs in various stages of existence in the U.S. Republicans are now poised to dismantle years of painstaking work that has been done at the state level to reduce CO2 emissions.

The oldest of the three cap and trade programs, RGGI, was launched in 2005. Since that time it has generated $775 million through the sale of allowances to reduce CO2 emissions and transition to a clean energy economy.

That money is going back to member states and creating jobs. In Massachusetts, for example, some of that funding is expected to create 4,000 jobs over three years.

Three of the 10 RGGI member states — Maine, New Hampshire, and New York, saw the GOP gain control of state legislatures. A fourth, New Jersey, now has Republican Governor Chris Christie in control. Expect major political maneuvering by Republicans in these states to kill or slow the program in the coming years.

Why? Because it works. And because it works, it will be a dangerous counterexample to prove wrong the sham Republican arguments used in the last few years to try to obstruct climate change bills.

Meanwhile, the Midwest version, called the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, was only formed in 2007, and is not yet running. Member states are Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. If it was a nation, MGA’s emissions would be the seventh largest in the world.

MGA’s program to cut emissions will never launch. The math is simple: the GOP made major gains in nearly all member states: Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Finally, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) had planned to launch its program in 2012 after years of careful study. The GOP gained control of the legislature in partner states Colorado and Montana. And Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has already removed her state from the program. What happens with WCI now is unclear.

So there you have it.  How Republicans will obstruct climate change reform even further.

There are a few other big pieces too where change will no doubt come — states with Republican takeovers will probably have their renewable portfolio standards weakened. This means less support for clean energy and the jobs that comes with it.

And let’s not get started on utility efficiency programs in states (like Wisconsin) where Republicans gained and the state did not deregulate its energy market. That’s another subject entirely, but there will probably be change coming there too. Prediction: less money for energy efficiency and renewable energy, more deregulation.

It’s hard to say when all these different shifts will occur in the different states. What will be especially interesting is whether these changes occur quietly or whether opposition is mobilized to explain how badly these changes will put our environmental security at risk.


5 Responses to Get Ready For Huge Reversals in Energy and Climate Change Policies

  1. PartiallyBlue says:

    Thank goodness for the reversal. It is one thing to build federal buildings with all of these environmental justice techniques and it is quite another to tell somebody else they must use them to build their own.

  2. No one can build a building that is just their own. The bigger the building the less “their own” it is.

  3. Lee Schwartz says:

    Thought you should probably know Michigan has adopted the 2009 IECC as its statewide energy code. The adoption was made with the support of the Michigan Association of Home Builders. In fact, the chairman of the energy code review committee was a home builder.

  4. SS396 says:

    Good to know! Thanks for the update. It looks like the change does not take effect until next March, so the map I used did not indicate the new code.

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