- Isiah LeggetCounty Executive
- Nancy FloreenCouncilmember
- Roger BerlinerCouncilmember
- Marc ElrichCouncilmember
- Tom HuckerCouncilmember
- Sidney KatzCouncilmember
- George LeventhalCouncilmember
- Nancy NavarroCouncilmember
- Craig RiceCouncilmember
- Hans RiemerCouncilmember
Raise the Bar on Green Construction in Montgomery County
Montgomery County government is about to lower green building standards at a time when climate change is an urgent existential threat to humanity. Two thirds of energy in Montgomery is used by buildings and the 2012 International Green Construction Code can help to significantly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change, but enabling legislation Executive Regulation 21-15 as drafted weakens the 2012 IgCC baseline of minimum requirements to the point where even the building industry is concerned that "the law as written... risks weakening green building expectations across the county and penalizing (rather than rewarding) businesses that choose to invest in green building leadership." This decrease in green building standards comes inexplicably after the County government admitted last year that it is not on track to meet goals set in the Climate Protection Plan - instead of reducing emissions compared to 2005 levels by 10%, we are still increasing emissions and energy use.
The 2012 IgCC is the first model overlay code that covers all of sustainability - air, water, green space, energy use and generation - through the entire development cycle - site layout, building materials selection, construction, operation, maintenance and beyond - so a stronger draft regulation that exceeds the IgCC baseline instead of gutting it is our only way to meaningfully address climate change and other environmental challenges in Montgomery County like water quality as building sites generate stormwater pollution that continues to further degrade our creeks, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.
We have the proven technologies and policy prescriptions that can restore our environment, grow our economy, and create green local jobs at the same time. All we are missing is the political will.
- County Executive
I am writing in support of Montgomery County’s adoption of the 2012 International Green Construction Code and urge your immediate attention to ensure that enabling Executive Regulation 21-15 meets the County’s aspirations as an environmental leader and honors the County’s legal obligations to improve our environment and address climate change.
The 2012 IgCC is the first model overlay code to include minimum sustainability requirements for the entire construction project and site – from design to construction, operation, maintenance, and beyond – with the potential to address the full scope of Montgomery County’s sustainability challenges ranging from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to water quality. In our County, buildings are the single largest source of GHG emissions and building sites are the single largest source of stormwater pollution, so the 2012 IgCC is the optimal way to meaningfully address both problems at once. Designed to supplant the voluntary and expensive LEED certification system, the 2012 IgCC is a mandatory building code streamlined to assure compliance in a cost-effective manner that represents a unique opportunity to Montgomery County according to our own Department of Environmental Protection:
“…the majority of building codes implemented in Montgomery County are mandated for adoption by the State of Maryland; therefore, the County’s ability to make substantive revisions to the provisions of a particular code is limited. At this point in time, the process for the IgCC is different because, although the State did adopt the IgCC, it did not make adoption by jurisdictions like Montgomery County mandatory. As a result, the County has greater flexibility to modify the code to meet our specific policy objectives.”
Unfortunately, Executive Regulation 21-15 draft as authored by the Department of Permitting Services wastes this unique opportunity by weakening the code’s baseline of minimum sustainability requirements to the point where this regulation is a step backward for the County’s green building standards – a concern that is shared by environmental activists alongside the local building industry that is sending you letters to “Ensure the County's exemplary green building baseline is not compromised with this new code,” after meeting in December:
“…in response to concern from local professionals and industry leaders that the law as written… risks weakening green building expectations across the county and penalizing (rather than rewarding) businesses that choose to invest in green building leadership. While the room held various perspectives, several general consensus points could be identified by the end of the meeting. These points included: The desire for at least maintaining the stringency of the minimum requirements that currently exist (and about gaps that may need filling); "The need to foster a competitive real estate environment that can attract important tenants/clients (including the federal government) into the County, and not send them elsewhere…”
As it stands, most of the 2012 IgCC sustainability requirements in Executive Regulation 21-15 as drafted are either deleted or moved to an appendix for electives, thereby wasting our last opportunity to take meaningful action on climate change – an urgent and existential threat to all of humanity. Last year the County failed to meet obligations to reduce GHG emissions by 10 percent from 2005 levels, and we are still increasing energy use and emissions year-on-year. Similarly, the ER 21-15 draft does virtually nothing to further the goals of the County’s MS-4 stormwater permit and the State of Maryland mandate to implement Environmental Site Design to the maximum extent practicable. The draft is so bad, the Department of Environmental Protection went public with their words of caution:
“By only requiring two electives, many projects that are occurring in Montgomery County would comply simply because of their location and the type of project being built without addressing some of the more substantive sustainability measures. This appears to be instituting an approach in the building code that has been the subject of criticism for the both the LEED building standard and the CRZ zone - whereby credit is given for location and development type as opposed to real sustainability measures... Under DPS's currently proposed modifications, a number of elements are moved from the "base" code to Appendix A. Moving "base" requirements from Chapters 3-11 has two effects. First, it reduces the "minimum requirements" of the IgCC. Second, by adding additional electives, it provides applicants the opportunity to choose as an elective an activity that originally was part of the base code, thus reducing the need to implement measures that were originally designed to go beyond the minimum requirements of the code. For this reason, very careful consideration has to be given to moving items from the base code to Appendix A.”
Finally, ER 21-15 as drafted fails not only our environment and our children’s future, but the economy as well. Sustainable building technologies improve energy efficiency and economic competitiveness, decrease infrastructure and operating costs, create local green jobs, increase property values and provide a host of other valuable ancillary economic benefits. The Director of Department of Permitting Services agrees that benefits outweigh the costs:
“First of all, probably the most important point, is that over time these costs are recovered and I want to stress that - whether you are doing a large building or a small building - over time the energy costs will be covered which is good for the long-term owner. It may not be as good for the person who is getting, whose business model is that they build, and then they flip it and get out.”
We have the technologies and the policy prescriptions that can improve both our environment and our economy at the same time. All we are missing is the political will to wrest the draft ER 21-15 away from the special “flip-it-and-get-out” interests. Since power surrenders nothing without a demand, we are hereby demanding a new Executive Regulation draft that honors the County’s legal obligations and walks the talk of meaningful action to address the urgent global threat of climate change locally, so our children and their children’s children can enjoy this beautiful Planet and the green jobs that come with it for the long term.
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