S.C. Senators Want to Roll Back Home Efficiency

Republican Senators take aim at state energy codes. Poorly written bill may stymie their efforts.

Senate Bill 579 was introduced in late March, and it’s eye-opening. It proposes to have South Carolina Building Codes, not model codes, as “the only codes binding upon a state or local governmental entity or agency which adopts the building and safety codes authorized or required by this chapter.”

Furthermore, Section 3 of SB 579 lists all the enforceable state codes, but proposes removing “energy” and “energy efficiency” from that list. This means that jurisdictions wouldn’t have to enforce the energy code anymore. Interestingly, in that same section, it’s being proposed that “the enforcing authority shall enforce only the national building and safety codes as promulgated in accordance with this chapter.”

Combined with Section 5 of the bill, which calls for: “The Council is authorized to review, adopt, modify, and promulgate the residential building codes, referenced in Section 6-9-50, no later than six years from the date of implementation of the previously adopted South Carolina Building Codes and the commercial building codes, referenced in Section 6-9-50, no later than three years from the date of implementation of the previously adopted South Carolina Building Codes.”

The Senate is saying that all their codes can follow national codes except for their residential and commercial building codes, and that their residential code cycle should be extended to 6 years instead of the usual 3. While all this will make some scratch their heads as to why the State would eschew nationally developed, consensus model codes, what’s even more head-scratching is this proposed provision in Section 6 of SB 579:

“The council may use as guidance, but is not required to adopt, the requirements of a nationally known code, a national model code, or a nationally recognized code and similar state or national agencies engaged in research concerning the strength of materials, safe design, and other factors bearing upon health and safety.”

On the same day it was introduced, SB 579 was referred to the Senate Committee on Labor, Commerce, and Industry.

There’s no masking this one. It’s not often we see something this blatant, but the seven Republican Senators who co-authored this bill are clearly targeting residential energy codes. They seem determined to send the new homes in their state backward on energy efficiency.

The good news is that this poorly-written bill leaves the door open to energy efficiency advocates. The end of Section 5 of SB 579 states (emphasis added): “The council may issue a temporary building code modification as provided for in Section 1-23-130 if an existing building code requirement constitutes a new threat to the life or safety of a building occupant or if an existing building code requirement is shown to be impractical or detrimental to the economic welfare of South Carolina homeowners and potential home buyers.

A written request, along with supporting evidence, for a temporary building code modification may be made to the council. The council will then submit the written request to the committee. The committee shall have an open public hearing within ten days of receiving the request to make a recommendation.

Should the committee find grounds for a temporary code modification, the committee shall forward its recommendation to the council. The council shall then schedule an open meeting within seven days to act on the committee’s recommendation.”

This is certainly a bill to watch as the year progresses.