Capitol Hill was busier than usual last year as recession recovery efforts, health care, and climate change legislation dominated the national stage. With the spotlight fixed on Washington, California quietly continued to move towards greater energy efficiency and stronger environmental legislation. Considering the trends of California are often closely followed by the nation, contractors outside of the Golden State are beginning to take particular note of the developments that occurred in 2009 and are preparing for the developments of 2010.


California legislated the nation’s first ever green building code and made strides to increase its energy efficiency agenda when it passed Assembly Bill (AB) 32. The code officially took effect Aug. 1, 2009.

“California now has the nation’s first green building code - and there is no question that the implementation of AB 32 will further change the way buildings are made,” said Nancy Miller, national sales director for Green Technology. “Companies that know how to build energy-efficient, low-emission buildings have more of an edge than ever.”

Announced by the California Building Standards Commission, the code is currently a voluntary measure, but according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), mandatory rules are expected to be completed by the end of this year.

“The requirements set high standards, requiring new construction to reduce potable water use by 20 percent and establishes a two tiered 15 or 30 percent energy reduction above current levels for all buildings,” said ASHRAE. “The code also includes improvements to air quality and resource conservation.”

With the new California Green Building Code in play, the International Code Council (ICC) announced it would use the state’s new legislation as a key reference document as it develops the International Green Construction Code (IGCC); a new international code for commercial buildings.

“California frequently leads the nation on innovation, and we expect that their Green Building Standards Code will provide a key resource as we develop the IGCC for national and international usage,” said Richard Weiland, CEO, ICC.

“California continues to lead the nation and the world in protecting the environment and fighting climate change,” echoed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.


With a voluntary green building code notch in its belt, California continued to push the envelope as it further developed its own greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) released a preliminary draft version late in November 2009. This 132-page document will be taken into consideration this year and if passed will take effect by Jan. 1, 2012.

“By releasing the first draft of a cap-and-trade system that California will put into effect in 2012, we are demonstrating the state’s determination to push ahead, continue to work with other states in the United States and abroad, and invite others to join us,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California ARB.

The proposed program will initially apply to 605 of the state’s largest stationary emitters of GHGs. Beginning in 2015; however, regulations will be broadened to cover smaller stationary GHG emitters including homes and commercial businesses.

In an ASHRAE release prepared by Ryan Colker, manager of government affairs, he outlines the essence and scope of this potential program.

“The regulations will set a cap on GHG emissions that will decline each year through 2020 in order to help bring the state’s GHG emissions back to 1990 levels, which represents a decline of about 15 percent from today’s emission levels,” said Colker.

“The cap-and-trade program is just one part of achieving this goal; other measures include building and appliance efficiency standards, strong energy efficiency programs, a statewide renewable energy requirement, clean car standards, a low-carbon fuel standard, and targeted usage fees.”


In light of its legislative and efficiency efforts this past year, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked California as No. 1 on its 2009 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. This is the third annual report card released. Its measurements take into consideration six energy efficiency categories: utility sector and public benefits programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes; combined heat and power; state government initiatives; and appliance efficiency standards. Massachusetts and Connecticut came in second and third, respectively. According to ACEEE, Colorado, Delaware, Maine, South Dakota, and Tennessee all made significant improvements in their rankings.


Federal climate legislation has slowed due to the end-of-the-year push to finalize national health care, but individual efforts continue to keep climate change at the forefront of the contractor’s mind.

With new laws and shifting ideology comes new trends and the green concepts inspired by Europe, California, and today’s scientists continue to demand that contractors pay attention to federal and state legislation coming down the pike. California’s proposed cap-and-trade may not affect the residential contractor in Wyoming quite yet, but times are changing and a watchful eye is wise.

Publication date:01/18/2010