Mind Your Administrative P’s & Q’s When Rejecting Energy Code Changes

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The Court of Appeals of the State of New Mexico handed down a limited win for energy code advocates, holding that adopting changes to building codes that removed energy conservation provisions without any justification violated administrative procedure. The decision is available here.

Between 2006 and 2012, the construction and energy codes adopted in many jurisdictions have incorporated provisions increasing the energy efficiency of buildings built to code by 30% (15% from the 2006 to the 2009 codes, and an additional 15% from 2009 to 2012). 

As I have posted about previously, there is a trend nationwide to resist adoption of the 2012 codes, in part based on the increased energy conservation requirements. In the case of New Mexico, the state had adopted codes which had energy conservation requirements beyond those in the 2009 energy codes. 

The New Mexico Construction Industries Commission (the "Commission") sought to adopt changes that would have removed any energy conservation provisions from the New Mexico codes that exceeded the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

The Commission held several public meetings and solicited public comments on the code changes.  Then, at a June 2, 2011 meeting, after a brief and (frankly) confusing statement by the Chair of the Commission, the Commission voted to adopt the code changes without further discussion.

Several groups including the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Environment New Mexico, several green builders, the Sierra Club and other sued to overturn the Commission’s decision for (among other arguments) being "arbitrary and capricious" due to the Commission’s lack of discussion and justification for the decision. 

The Court of Appeals held that the Court could not even determine whether the Commission’s decision was valid because the Commission failed to provide "what facts and circumstances were considered and the weight given to those facts and circumstances."  Southwest Energy Efficiency Project v. New Mexico Construction Industries Comm’n, No. 313838, April 4, 2013 (N.M. Ct. Appeals) at 10.  The Court remanded the Codes to the Commission for reconsideration, with a justification of its reasons for its decision. 

The reason why I characterize the decision as a "limited win" is that, assuming that the Commissioners are the same, there is no reason why the decision on the code adoption will change. If the code revisions are again adopted, with justification, the Plaintiffs will have to institute another legal action, and demonstrate that the justification provided by the Commission is arbitrary and capricious. 

However there may be value to the plaintiffs simply by filing the suit and making the Commissioners justify to the citizens of New Mexico in writing why the homes they live in should not be energy efficient. 

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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