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Michigan residents win long-fought energy savings battle

New, modern residential building code now in effect
Oct 24, 2008
A long-awaited state energy code, requiring homebuilders to use modern energy efficiency measures in new home construction, will now be in effect as the Ingham County Circuit Court, on October 22nd, ruled in favor of the State of Michigan and dismissed a lawsuit by the Michigan Home Builders Association (MAHB).

The new, energy-efficient code, adopted in 2004, had been in limbo due to legal maneuvering by the MAHB, which used the state’s legal system to circumvent the comprehensive administrative process that led to the adoption of a new, more energy efficient code. As a result, Michigan residents lost years of potential energy savings, totaling tens-of-millions of dollars and contributing to increased releases of tons of environmental pollutants.

The new energy code will provide Michigan consumers better protection against rising energy costs through the inclusion of up-to-date efficiencies in new home construction. The long-awaited rules will help cut the $24 billion annually that Michigan residents and businesses send out of state and to other countries to import expensive fossil fuels.

As the code was to become effective, in February 2005, MAHB successfully obtained a preliminary injunction preventing implementation of the cost-efficient rules. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG), along with the intervenors, appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals which, in August 2007, ruled that the Circuit Court had applied an incorrect legal standard in its review of the new rule. Despite the clarity of the decision by the Court of Appeals, the MAHB attempted to appeal the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court, adding further delay, and costing Michigan residents millions more in lost energy savings. In June 2008, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the agency and the intervenors, and the case was remanded to the Circuit Court for review. The Circuit Court ruled that its review of the DLEG energy code was limited to determining whether there was a “rational basis” in the administrative record for the agency’s actions. The Court found, contrary to MAHB’s arguments, that DLEG’s broad statutory authority authorized the agency to incorporate as many provisions of the International Residential Code as the agency found to result in cost-efficient updates to the rules. This week’s ruling by the Circuit Court lifts the injunction and dismisses the MAHB case, thereby enacting the new, more energy-efficient code.

Three organizations – the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), Michigan Community Action Agency Association (MCAAA) and Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) – intervened on the side of the state to protect the public’s interest in the case. MEEA and other coalition members have been working to advance the code for years. In supporting the code’s original adoption, the coalition commissioned a study by the Department of Energy to document the savings and payback period and provided written and verbal testimony.

A June 2008 ruling on this matter by the Michigan Supreme Court paved the way for intervenors to file a motion for summary judgment to end the MAHB-led lawsuit and allow Michigan to enforce its code. That motion was granted on Wednesday, when the Circuit Court ruled that the Michigan Bureau of Construction Codes may incorporate the new standards into the Michigan Uniform Energy Code (MUEC).

Coalition members supporting the implementation of the code, expressed satisfaction in its passage.

“The Court affirmed the wide latitude of state agencies to issue rules, and the very narrow basis to challenge government action. The decision effectively upholds the authority of the Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG) to safeguard consumer interests by upgrading Michigan’s energy code,” noted Wendy Jaehn, Executive Director, MEEA.

“This action will result in hundreds of dollars each year in energy savings for homeowners,” said Jim Crisp, Executive Director, MCCA. “In the long run, it will save the state and its citizens hundreds of millions of dollars in avoided energy cost by slowing the rate of energy use. It is a shame we’ve had to waste all this time in the courts when Michigan homeowners could have been reaping the benefits all along.”

“Up until now, homeowners across the state have been denied a reasonable energy standard by the legal maneuvers of MAHB,” said Lana Pollack, President, MEC. “People across the state who just barely qualify for home ownership will have much needed relief moving forward thanks to the Court’s ruling.”

About MEEA – The Source on Energy Efficiency
The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) (www.mwalliance.org) is a collaborative network advancing energy efficiency in the Midwest to support sustainable economic development and environmental preservation.

MEEA promotes the market transformation of energy efficiency technologies, processes and best practices within a 12-state area, through policy advocacy, program design and facilitation and piloting of energy technologies. MEEA is bridging the gap between policy adoption and program implementation.

Energy efficiency is the critical first step in meeting our nation's myriad energy challenges, because of low entry costs, proven and emerging technologies, ease of implementation, fast return on investment and measurable results. Through our diverse network of members and regional allies, MEEA possesses the practical experience and informed vision to effect positive change today, while supporting the region's stakeholders in achieving their efficiency goals for the future.
Stacey Paradis
Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance
(312) 339-0187, cell
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