PEC Outlines Concerns with House Bill 635 to House Labor and Industry Committee

To: Members of the House Labor and Industry Committee
From: John Walliser, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Re: Concerns with House Bill 635 (P.N. 735)

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, I am writing to express our concerns with House Bill 635 (P.N. 735), currently before the Labor and Industry Committee. While there is a definite need to amend the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act, we believe House Bill 635 does not take the correct approach.

Amendments to the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act in 2011 made it extraordinarily difficult to update the state’s building code for the most up-to-date safety, health, and energy provisions. Prior to the 2011 amendment, the Review and Advisory Council (RAC) reviewed and adopted the most current edition of the Universal Construction Code (UCC) in full, with the exception of any provisions specifically excluded by RAC. In contrast, the 2011 amendment changed the process to require a two-thirds vote in favor of each provision in order for it to be adopted. This change drastically increased the amount of work for the RAC, whose members are almost entirely volunteers, and has led Pennsylvania to a stand still on improvements to Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code.

House Bill 635 does not resolve this dilemma. In fact, the legislation potentially further inhibits improvements by proposing to extend review of the UCC from the current three-year schedule to a six-year schedule. In addition, House Bill 635 expands the RAC review period from one to two years. Postponing review and adoption of code updates means Pennsylvania homes, schools, and offices are being built and renovated with outdated safety and energy guidance.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council believes having up-to-date building codes is more important than ever for a number of reasons:

  • The UCC includes provisions to improve resiliency in the face of increasing natural disasters and flooding. The state’s 2015 Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update indicates flooding, such as that seen during Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Ivan, will increase. The costs of these disasters are borne by our state’s homeowners and taxpayers. The 2015 codes include many flood-related provisions, including changes to the 2015 International Residential Code supported by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Superstorm Sandy analysis report.
  • Up-to-date codes spur innovation and investment in the manufacturing sector. Pennsylvania is home to building sector manufacturing companies like Eaton, Tyco and Lutron, contributing jobs for Pennsylvania residents and tax dollars to the municipalities in which they are located. In fact, Pennsylvania manufacturer members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association alone represent over 14,000 jobs. We should be doing all we can to encourage this sector, rather than deferring to investment in other states that are embracing safer, greener building practices.
  • Up-to-date building codes save Pennsylvanians money through improved energy efficiency. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the 2015 UCC would save consumers between $4,000-$24,000 over the course of a 30-year mortgage (as compared to the 2009 UCC), all while reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

We urge you to reject these piecemeal changes in favor of a more comprehensive change that restores a functional code adoption process. There is currently existing legislation in the House – House Bill 1645, sponsored by Representative Harper – which more appropriately amends the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code Act.

Thank you for your consideration.

John Walliser
Senior Vice President, Legal & Government Affairs
Pennsylvania Environmental Council