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Fossil fuel companies recently lobbied successfully to remove climate-friendly measures from the country’s model building codes, making it more expensive for homeowners to go electric. Democrats have criticized the gas industry’s influence over the International Code Council’s process. Now, some Republicans are pressuring the Department of Energy to slow down programs meant to help states and cities adopt more energy-efficient codes, claiming that these codes could exacerbate the housing affordability crisis and limit energy choices for Americans.

The process of updating building codes has become politicized, with issues such as energy efficiency and affordability becoming partisan talking points. The U.S. does not have a national building code, leaving it up to states and cities to decide which codes to adopt. While some states, like Illinois, regularly update to the latest codes, others, like Idaho, have not updated codes in over a decade. Federal agencies have some influence over states’ building codes, but the process has been slow and inconsistent.

The Obama administration made adherence to the 2009 International Code Council codes a requirement for federal housing loans, but these rules have not been updated since. The Biden administration has signaled its support for stricter codes and has allocated over $1 billion to help states enact more energy-efficient regulations. However, efforts to update the housing loan rules remain stalled. Republicans have criticized the Energy Department for not clearly defining terms related to new codes and have raised concerns about potential bans on natural gas and nuclear power.

The building codes that were removed from the latest codebook would have required developers to wire new homes with circuitry for electric appliances, heat pumps, and car chargers. This would have made it easier and cheaper to install these systems during construction, rather than as retrofits later on. The decision to remove these provisions was made after last-minute appeals from trade associations representing gas utilities and furnace manufacturers. The change has already had an impact, with states like New York postponing the adoption of the latest codes in response to the ICC’s ruling.

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