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The use of natural gas or electricity in future commercial building heating systems in Washington will be significantly restricted after the State Building Code Council (SBCC) adopted two new revisions to the state’s energy code for commercial buildings. Starting next year, new businesses and apartments will mostly use heat pumps to warm air and heat water. The commercial energy code is slated to go into effect on July 1, 2023.

In written comments submitted for the record, the Northwest Gas Association (NWGA) called the process leading to the adoption of these restrictions, “inherently flawed, deeply biased and blithely indifferent to the very real issues and concerns raised by building and utility experts who work in this space every day.”

In the Legislature, forced electrification was stopped by a broad-based coalition of labor unions, the construction industry, commercial interests, gas companies, and others. Since Governor Inslee and his allies could not persuade the state legislature to adopt policies restricting gas use and disrupting large sectors of the economy, they resorted to the SBCC.

Unlike the Legislature, where members are elected by and accountable to the voters, SBCC members are appointed by the Governor. He took full advantage, bypassing the legislative process and stacking the Council with new members who share his views.

After almost a year of public process and comment, several of the new Council members were installed less than a month before the final vote. Even though they were not previously a part of the process and were not informed of it, the new members all voted in favor of the offending code proposals.

“This was an overreach by an executive agency,” said Dan Kirschner, Executive Director of the NWGA. “They essentially banned natural gas use in buildings, which is a policy decision for state lawmakers to enact, not a bureaucratic board of unelected appointees that are not accountable to voters,” Kirschner added that the council exists to make technical revisions to building codes ensuring safe and efficient structures.

Board member and Spokane County Commissioner Al French led the charge against the heat pump provisions. In voting against the code, French said it should ultimately be up to the Legislature to set the code. “One of the criticisms I’ve had of this board for a long time is it’s not accountable,” French said at the meeting. “It’s not accountable to the Legislature, it’s not accountable to the public, and yet they make decisions that are far-reaching.”

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