Federal Court Rejects Challenge to Washington State Energy Efficiency Rules

A federal court today upheld Washington’s 2009 energy efficiency building code – a code that sets standards that will save Washington residents millions of dollars and reduce harmful global warming pollution. The building code sets energy efficiency requirements for new homes that will reduce energy use, and homeowners’ energy bills, for years to come. The Building Industry Association of Washington had challenged Washington’s code, alleging that it conflicted with federal law, despite that fact that the code gives builders the flexibility to pick from a large range of energy efficiency options.

Ruling in favor of Washington state and conservation and energy groups, the federal district court in Tacoma found that federal law does not trump Washington’s 2009 building code because the code does not mandate the use of major appliances that exceed federal energy efficiency standards and the options are based on scientific modeling. The decision establishes that Washington’s code does not conflict with federal law and can be applied to new construction throughout the state.

Conservation groups that argued in defense of the state code were pleased with the decision.

“Washington has boosted its economy, economically met rising energy costs, and fought the impact of climate change by being a state leader in the area of energy efficiency,” said Amanda Goodin, an Earthjustice attorney who represented the conservation and energy groups in court. “This decision should give other states the confidence to enact forward-looking codes like Washington’s with the knowledge that these codes comply with the law.”

“Saving energy in buildings is good for consumers, is good for the economy, and is good for the region,” said Kim Drury of the NW Energy Coalition. “Energy efficient building makes good sense for Washington.”

“Our state’s building energy code saves people money, puts people to work, and reduces energy use,” said Joan Crooks, Executive Director of Washington Environmental Council. “This decision reaffirms Washington’s leadership on energy efficiency and green buildings – both essential ingredients to a clean energy economy.”

The State Building Code Council revised the building energy code in 2009, following two years of work by the public, stakeholders, and the Council’s Energy Technical Advisory Group to develop an innovative, cost effective, and flexible building energy code. That time and expertise led to the 2009 revision to the building energy code, a revision that went into effect on January 1, 2011. The new code allows home-builders to choose from a list of practical and accessible energy-saving options for new homes, like installation of high-efficiency, money-saving furnaces or water heaters, or super-efficient insulation and windows.

“This decision represents an important victory not only for Washington, but also for other states that have adopted similar energy savings measures. Congress expressly created a path for states to implement strong energy efficiency codes, recognizing that such codes are a critical tool for lowering energy consumption, reducing pollution, and enhancing energy security. Today, the court rebuked the building industry’s attempt to dismantle these progressive standards,” said Noah Long of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

NW Energy Coalition, Washington Environmental Council, and the Sierra Club (represented by Earthjustice) and the Natural Resources Defense Council intervened in the case to support the Washington State Building Code Council (represented in federal district court by the Washington State Attorney General’s office).