New Mexico became the first state in the union to roll back energy-efficient changes to its state building code today.
The state Construction Industries Commission voted to go back to a 2009 code, minus energy-efficient enhancements added during the Richardson administration. Those enhancements were created over a 14-month process, with input from environmental groups as well as representatives from the construction industry.
One of those industry groups, the state Home Builders Association, was closely involved in the development of the "enhanced" (energy-efficient) 2009 code—yet led the campaign for the rollback. The state HBA found discrepancies between the printed code and what was agreed upon through the lengthy meeting process, and used those to argue for a step back to the drawing board. Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association President Kim Shanahan tells SFR that he feels the state HBA's action made it easier for the CIC to vote as it did.
"Unfortunately our state association, the New Mexico Home Builders, really gave them the out by pointing this stuff out to them," Shanahan says. "Quite frankly if they had not had this pointed out to them a week ago, they would not have been able to use this excuse as to why they needed to go back and redo things."
The word "rollback" or "repeal" doesn't appear anywhere in the press release sent out by the Construction Industries Division this afternoon. Instead, the agency touts the move as "adoption" of "2009 Energy Conservation Standards," adding that the process to further enhance the code to meet state specifications will now "begin."
Trainings had already been conducted throughout the state on the enhanced 2009 code—a waste, given the rollback, decried by environmental activists in conversations with SFR.
State Regulation and Licensing Superintendent J. Dee Dennis Jr., the former owner of an electric company, has led the charge on the rollback within the administration. In the press release, he is quoted as saying the enhanced code passed during the Richardson administration represented "a total breakdown of process to follow the law," dramatically calling its enactment a "fatal" process:
"In the haste to adopt the code in 2010, important and necessary oversight functions were ignored by the previous administration, resulting in a fatal process where results became the focus of the process instead of focusing on the actual process," Dennis Jr is quoted as saying.
RLD spokesman SU Mahesh explains to SFR that the "total breakdown of process to follow the law" consisted of the discrepancies between the printed and previously agreed-upon code—even though those discrepancies are referred to separately in the press release.
"What resulted in the end was, the document that was adopted was not the same thing as what was published," Mahesh says.
Tammy Fiebelkorn, NM Representative of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, says that first of all, she doesn't buy the explanation that the discrepancies were significant, as CID has declined to make any of them public. Furthermore, she says that any errors should not be blamed on the negotiation process, but on CID staff, who had a motivation to deliberately mess them up.
"It does make you wonder if these changes were made by CID staff, and it's clear that CID staff wants this rollback," Fiebelkorn says. "It just makes you wonder why these mistakes were made to begin with—if they are in fact mistakes, or if this was on purpose. I don't know, because no one has told anyone in the public what these problems are. But I can tell you there was no problems with the process itself."
Shanahan says it's interesting that the Martinez administration now purports to be embarking on the same process the CIC already went through last year in terms of amending the code to fit it to New Mexico.
"I hope we can trust them at their word that they can be going forward to make changes that are appropriate for New Mexico—I would contend that is exactly what the previous administration and their folks had done," Shanahan says. "So now we have new people defining what New Mexico is, apparently."