Gov. Kate Brown issued two executive orders last week that she said would reduce greenhouse emissions while supporting Oregon’s economy.
The environmental aspects were obvious. The economic ones? Not so much. The Governor’s Office has yet to release any analysis of how her fiats would affect the economy, especially construction costs.
That should concern Oregonians. So too should the governor’s decision to bypass the Legislature in revising the state building code.
As head of the executive branch, Brown certainly was within her rights to expand purchases of electric vehicles for state use and to require increased energy efficiency when the state builds or remodels its government buildings. The Legislature ultimately will decide whether to fund those decisions.
But in her 17 pages of executive orders, Brown also demanded changes to building regulations that affect all construction in Oregon, including requiring that new buildings be ready for installation of solar panels. That mandate would take effect in October 2020 for residences and October 2022 for commercial buildings. By October 2023, new residences would have to consume no more energy than they generated.
By October 2022, new commercial buildings would have to exceed International Green Construction Code requirements.
By January 2020, high-efficiency water fixtures would be required in new buildings. By October 2025, new commercial structures would have to safely reuse water for irrigation.
Those changes, and others, during the next two to eight years sound good in theory. Brown says Oregonians will save money on utility costs and — with the emphasis on electric vehicles — on fuel. There also are provisions that some requirements could be temporarily delayed if the costs are “significant,” although that term is left undefined.
But in practicality, this seems like a classic case of putting the cart — in this case, an electric one — before the horse. Brown provided no evidence that her executive orders involved give-and-take discussions with the construction industry, private property owners and other Oregonians throughout the state.
If state government wants to place unfunded mandates on itself, that’s one thing. But it’s quite different to put those mandates on the private sector without first understanding the resulting financial and social costs.
Running a business, especially a small business, is tough enough in Oregon. Every government mandate increases both the cost of doing business and the uncertainty of doing business.