Thursday, December 13, 2007
Because of their voracious gobbling of energy for heating and air conditioning, buildings directly or indirectly account for a large share (estimates range from 30 to 50 percent) of the United States’ emission of greenhouse gases. As the American legal effort on climate change shifts to a variety of non-federal sources, it is no surprise that many are calling for office buildings (which may not account for more energy than residences, but which presumably can afford more expenditures) to abide by energy-saving “green” designs. And it is no surprise that San Francisco is near the front of the pack. Yesterday, the mayor of the city by the bay announced a legislative proposal that would require new large buildings to comply with tough LEED standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.
While some developers are voluntarily seeking out energy-saving designs, the private sector doesn’t usually like government to tell it what to do. And there’s the fear, as the “public choice” school of criticism warns us, that a regulation touted as “green” may in fact be a mask for helping certain private interest groups—such as contractors who may benefit from putatively green design and products—at the expense of others. It’s good to see, therefore, that the San Francisco plan would track the LEED standards, which have got good reviews from many quarters. If the experience from the federal environmental laws is any guide, a requirement to follow a prescribed set of technology generates a lot of complaints about “command and control” and excessive costs, but holds the benefit of being straightforward and relatively easy to monitor. Until the world adopts a more “efficient” planetary system for trading in all types of pollutants, of course …
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