PEC Expresses Concerns With House Bill 568

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September 23, 2016

To: Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Re: Concerns with House Bill 568 (P.N. 3705)

Dear Representatives:

I am writing to you to express the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s concerns with HB 568 (Evankovich), which is currently in the House Rules committee. PEC agrees that the current process by which Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code (UCC) is adopted is broken, and we are appreciative of Representative Evankovich’s efforts to address this issue. However, HB568 does not present an adequate solution. In fact, along with the proposed amendment (P.N. A09736), it stands to make the situation worse.

Building codes are intended to ensure buildings are constructed with the most up-to-date practices to protect the health and welfare of building occupants. HB 568 threatens the ability of the state to adopt and utilize the most up-to-date standards. In particular we believe the legislation has the following deficiencies:

  • Creates a timeline that locks Pennsylvania into outdated codes- The legislation’s timeline specifies that code review will begin 21 months after the ICC is released, and that regulations adopted under the act shall take effect 33 months after the beginning of the review period. This equates to 54 months between when the ICC is released and possible enactment in Pennsylvania, locking our state into a cycle of always being at least one version of the ICC behind.
  • Ensures use of 2009 codes through 2018-The 2015 code will be reviewed on a separate schedule, and any regulations adopted as a result of that review shall be effective June 1, 2018. At that point, Pennsylvania will have operated under the 2009 code for nearly ten years.
  • Does not fix the aspects of Act 1 of 2011 that make it nearly impossible to update the Uniform Construction Code- Although the bill removes the requirement for a two-thirds majority vote for adoption of every provision in the ICC—a barrier to code updates presently—it continues to require a two-thirds majority vote for any provision that has been “opposed.” The bar for being “opposed” is low, and could include receipt of a comment from the public or selection by a member of the technical advisory committee, recommending the provision for individual review by the RAC. This system makes it very easy for a provision to be marked as “opposed” and therefore subjected to the same, ineffective adoption process that the bill purportedly seeks to address.

Further, the current amendment (P.N. A09736) allows the RAC an additional opportunity to relegate provisions to the opposed category. Following the technical advisory group review and public comment period, but prior to the RAC vote on all unopposed measures as a block, the amendment would allow a RAC member a final opportunity to recommend a provision for the opposed category, despite the significant review the code provisions will have already undergone. Support of only one-third of RAC is required to move the provision into the opposed category.

  • RAC Composition– A final concern is the make-up of the RAC. The RAC is intended to represent subject matter experts in building science and code enforcement. Unfortunately, in practice it has been dominated by special interests. HB 568 would contribute to this problem by adding additional representatives appointed by leadership of the General Assembly, further politicizing the process. While we support having representation from a number of building trades, municipalities, and consumer advocates, it is important that these representatives are selected by the constituencies they represent, based on technical merit, not political motivations.
  • Removal of life-cycle cost assessment—The current amendment (N. A09736) removes consideration of the life-cycle costs and savings associated with provisions of the building code, instead placing more emphasis on upfront costs. This can be especially damaging to energy efficiency code provisions, which increase upfront cost but lead to lower operating costs over the life of the structure. While it is completely appropriate to consider and limit the upfront costs of certain energy efficiency provisions, it is not appropriate to completely eliminate any consideration of the savings that result. A more appropriate amendment could place a limit on the time it takes for a homeowner to recoup his or her initial investment through savings, rather than over the lifetime of the structure.

Pennsylvania’s lack of updated codes hurts our citizens in several ways, including compromised safety standards, higher utility bills through less efficient buildings, and risk of increased insurance rates due to outdated building practices. In consideration of the opposition that exists to the current bill, and the questions that remain unanswered, we urge you to oppose HB 568 and revisit this issue in the next legislative session through a process that is truly inclusive and represents a consensus among all relevant stakeholders.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

Davitt Woodwell
President