Womble Carlyle Construction Industry Blog

Following the construction industry and related legal topics in the United States.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

House Energy Bill Seeks Improved Energy Efficiency and Green Development for the Built Environment

On Tuesday of last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the much talked about energy bill, H.R. 6899, by a vote of 236 to 189. Politicians and the press have spent a great deal of energy focusing on this year's hot button issue, offshore drilling, but the bill also includes a number of provisions that could have an impact on sustainable development and construction. For example, Title VI of the bill is a reformulation of a bill originally proposed by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Co) last spring, the Green Act of 2008.

Among other things, Title VI seeks to cause a 20% reduction in energy consumption for single and multifamily structures built or rehabilitated with HUD assistance; creates an energy efficiency demonstration program that applies to multifamily properties in certain enumerated federally assisted program (e.g. Section 8); establishes incentives for increasing the energy efficiency of multifamily housing, including discounts on premiums for mortgage insurance and allowing mortgages to exceed certain dollar amount limits prescribed by law; and authorizes HUD to make grants to states, cities, and counties to carry out energy efficiency programs for new and existing multifamily housing.

Rep. Perlmutter stated in a recent press release, "The Green Act measures will help revitalize our economy by making energy efficiency practices more affordable, accessible and achievable by consumers, businesses and government entities. By prioritizing energy efficiency practices, we can ease the woes of homeowners, lenders, financial markets, builders and our environment."

Earlier this summer, Karen Carey summarized the testimony of representatives of the National Multi-Family Housing Counsel (NMHC) and the National Apartment Association (NAA) who offered a number of recommendations to improve the original Green Act of 2008. Some, but not all, of these recommendations were incorporated into Title VI, such as including the new National Green Building Standard as one of the applicable green building standards. See Karen's entry on Womble Carlyle's Multifamily and Mixed Use Development Blog for a summary of the other recommendations and a link to the full testimony.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga) predicted that the House energy bill would go nowhere in the Senate. The Senate intends to unveil its own energy bill before it recesses next week, but does not intend to address it until after the November elections.

Sources: HR 6899, Atlanta Journal Constitution

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

California's Green Building Standard

California's Green Building Standard, adopted by the California Building Standards Commission on July 18, 2008, appears to remain the only state-wide green building standard in existence --- which is somewhat surprising, given the sudden popularity of "going green" in so many business sectors. Hardly a day goes by without several emails in my In box advertising programs, books, events, etc. touting the benefits of being green.

California's standards appear to focus heavily on reducing water use --- by one account, the standards will require (when they become mandatory in a couple of years) that water use be reduced by 20 percent and water for landscaping by 50 percent for all new construction. The standards will also require reducing energy usage by 15 percent. Click here to find the final approved standards.

One thing that makes the California standards attractive is that they don't specify how to make the called-for reductions. Giving the construction industry the flexibility to choose how to reduce water consumption and energy should be helpful not only to the industry but also to consumers (whether this flexibility will carry over into the mandatory standards that are to be developed over the next two years or so remains to be seen).

It will be interesting to see whether, and when, other states follow California's lead. I suspect it won't be until after the economy bottoms out and begins to recover. It is hard to concentrate on much of anything else at this point. (This post published by Karen Estelle Carey, an attorney in Womble Carlyle's real estate and construction practice.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

First Measure to Link Transportation Funding to Urban Planning

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that a revolutionary bill has just passed both houses of the California legislature and is on its way to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk for his signature or veto. The Bill, Senate Bill 375, intends to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by rewarding cities and counties that prevent sprawl and improve public transportation.

The bill requires California's regional planning authorities to develop plans to meet a set of emission reduction goals in order to receive transportation funding. Builders who construct projects closer to public transportation will be graced with a lighter regulatory hand (e.g. reduced requirements for environmental studies).

There were a number of concerns, including an increase in the cost of housing, the loss of a city's right to determine the use of its land, and a fear that the law would impede California's growth, but the bill was ultimately supported by environmentalists, local governments, and builders.

Proponents hope that this bill will be a model used by other states to reduce the spread of sprawl, increase transportation-minded development, and lower carbon-dioxide emissions.

There is no word yet on whether the Governor will sign the bill into law.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another Construction Nightmare

The Womble Carlyle Fair Labor Standards Act Law Blog chronicles the Act with a particular emphasis on the southeast United States. In a blog entry posted yesterday, Charlie Edwards focuses on the increase in new construction industry filings in several specific areas, including a dispute over what constitutes compensible time for purposes of recording worked time. For further information, see his blog entry here.