The Code Council believes Biden’s history of support for building safety is a useful predictor of federal priorities
Changes in presidential administration often impact the building safety and code enforcement communities in the United States as the result of new policies and guidance that reflect an incoming administration’s priorities. The International Code Council’s Government Relations staff believes that U.S. President Joe Biden’s long history of support for model codes, the fire and emergency responders community, and his support for resilient buildings all bode well for the future of the industry in a challenging time.
Sara Yerkes, senior vice president for Government Relations, has known Biden since the 1980s when she represented the fire safety industry on Capitol Hill. She said that as a United States senator, Biden made a point of cultivating close ties with the fire and emergency responder communities, and he regularly attended Congressional Fire Services Institute events — at which he would praise the first responders who saved the lives of his two young sons who were injured in a 1972 car accident that claimed the lives of his first wife and daughter.
Another through-line is Biden’s support for policies that reduce the environmental impact of the built environment, which is in line with the Code Council’s climate initiatives. As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the early 2000s, Yerkes said, Biden took a stance on carbon pollution, economic standards for cars and clean energy. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was passed when Biden was vice president, provided $3.1 billion for the U.S. Department of Energy’s State Energy Program grants, but stipulated that states would have to implement new energy efficiency codes — like the International Energy Conservation Code — in order to qualify for the funds.
“Mr. Biden’s commitment to understanding the impact of climate and the environment on the well-being and health of people and buildings has always been a high priority for him,” Yerkes explained. “I’m confident that we are going to have a president who is familiar with, and receptive to discussing, issues that are priorities for the International Code Council. I believe that he’s going to be supportive of building codes and more stringent requirements. He has made it known in his policies that he wants to ensure that all buildings are efficient and ready for any challenges from natural and man-made hazards.”
Yerkes added that in her conversations with Biden administration officials, they have made it clear that the administration is looking at providing incentives for attaining greater energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and training the workforce for jobs in the new energy economy. “I don’t think the administration is looking at imposing unfunded mandates,” Yerkes said. “I think they are looking for ways to support initiatives such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s effort to improve energy efficiency in lower-income communities and the Department of Energy’s efforts to encourage the adoption of current energy codes.”
Under President Biden, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has reached out to the Code Council and other stakeholder organizations to learn about their legislative and regulatory priorities. High on the Code Council’s list of priorities, Yerkes said, is support for code administration. “We want the grants that the government puts out to be accessible to our building and code enforcement communities so they can not only provide resilient building standards but also have the means to enforce them,” Yerkes said. “I think they’re doing it the right way by reaching out to the building and fire service communities for their input, and we’re appreciative of that.”
Biden campaigned on a jobs and economic recovery strategy that prioritized infrastructure, pledging to establish nationwide performance standards for existing buildings and providing financial incentives for adopting strict building codes and labor standards. His clean energy strategy set an ambitious target of net-zero emissions for new commercial construction by 2030. An executive order issued by the Biden White House a week after taking office — Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad — reinforced those proposals by pledging to “move quickly to build resilience, both at home and abroad, against the impacts of climate change” through the reduction of carbon emissions and encouragement of private-sector investment in the construction of energy-efficient buildings and vehicles. The order also pledges to “increase the energy and water efficiency of United States Government installations, buildings and facilities and ensure they are climate-ready.”
“The new administration’s attention and focus on the role of the built environment in addressing climate change has been unprecedented,” said Gabe Maser, the Code Council’s vice president for Government Relations and National Strategy.
Maser said that the priorities sync well with the priorities of Code Council members as reflected in the International Energy Conservation Code, the International Building Code, the International Existing Building Code and the International Green Construction Code. “The Code Council recognizes the importance of these issues and the emphasis that the administration and Congress have placed on them, and we welcome the opportunity to partner with the administration, Congress and other stakeholders to provide solutions that address the government’s energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction priorities,” Maser said.
Yerkes is hopeful that the Biden administration, with the support of Congress, will be able to make substantial progress on strengthening and standardizing code administration and building safety standards that will benefit the construction industry as a whole without sacrificing the fundamentals. “Affordability is always a key issue for us,” Yerkes said. “We need to apply common sense and logic when we work on these issues, and I think that if common sense is applied, there will be a lot of support for these initiatives. We are always attentive to safety because that’s what the codes are about — providing safe and resilient homes and buildings.”
Yerkes said that while many in the industry will welcome the promises of stronger building codes and a greater emphasis on code enforcement, others will be more reluctant to embrace the administration’s policies. But, she said, that same wide range of opinions can be found in the construction industry any year, regardless of who is in office. “It’s going to be an interesting four years, for sure,” Yerkes said.