Ushering in 2014 with Laws that Government Unions and Greens Adore

California’s legislature passed, as usual, hundreds of laws that took effect on January 1st, but two of them are prime examples of how the Golden State has turned its governance over to an alliance of public sector unions, environmentalist extremists, and wealthy elites. Nowhere within this privileged clique is there any recognition of how difficult they are making everyday life for ordinary people.

Do you want to remodel your kitchen? Starting in 2014, you will have to install energy efficient “luminaires” (that’s bureaucrat-speak for “light”) that will not pass inspection unless they’re in hardwired sockets. Normal “screw base luminaires” do not qualify as “high efficiency.”  Courtesy of the California Energy Commission, here is “Chapter Six – Residential Lighting.” If you want to know how to install lighting in your new or remodeled kitchen, you’ll need to wade through 58 pages of specifications.

It gets worse.

Do you want to do anything to your home that involves getting a building permit? Remember that in most California counties, by law, you are required to have a building permit to install any major appliance including a water heater, a cooktop, an oven, etc., also any permanent light fixtures, or a deck, a spa, a driveway gate; to put it mildly, the list is inclusive. “Building permit” has taken on a rather expansive scope, and if you don’t get one, you are a criminal. And starting in 2014, if you submit a building permit application to install a gas cook top, or a window, or a water heater, you will also have to install “low flow” toilets, faucets and shower heads throughout your entire home. Stealthily passed back in 2009, SB 407 is finally here. And don’t expect to easily replace that “water efficient shower head” after the inspector leaves, because as noted on this KCRA report, the flow restriction valves must be installed inside your walls.

Laws this draconian might be justifiable if energy pollution and water scarcity were genuine problems that couldn’t be addressed in a more balanced manner. But California is floating on top of recoverable shale gas. There’s more energy here than in the famed Bakken formation that has ignited the economy in the Dakotas and is powering America. In a stunning turnaround, new recovery technologies mean that the North American continent has the potential to be completely energy self-sufficient. Even the originally established “greenhouse gas” targets have already been easily achieved, as Americans have switched from coal to natural gas.

As for water, it’s tough to argue with conservation measures when the state faces another severe drought. But as this table from the California Water Commission’s draft “2013 Water Plan, Chapter 3” proves, residential water use has remained flat for the past ten years, even as population has increased from 34 million to 38 million during the decade ended 2010.

More revealing, however, is the fact that urban water consumption – reference the “Depleted Water Use” table on the lower half of the chart below, which refers to water consumed that is not recycled – only represents 8.9% of water diversions in California. And courtesy of this Sierra Club chart “California water by the numbers,” only 62% of “urban” water use is residential (indoor and outdoor); the rest is commercial and industrial. And “indoor” water use is only 37% of “urban” water use. So these “low flow” mandates are going to marginally lower consumption of what is only 3.2% of water diversions in California. And just to complete the thought: Actual precipitation in a normal year in California is roughly 200 million acre feet – the “applied water use” referenced on this chart is only about 40% of California’s total precipitation – the rest evaporates, percolates, or flows into the ocean without diversion.

Put another way, in California, cutting indoor residential water use by 50% is the equivalent of rainfall in a given year decreasing by 1%. That’s how much good it’s going to do.

20140107-CA-water-useInstead of marginally reducing total energy and water consumption through expensive and inconvenient mandates, what California’s policymakers ought to be doing is enacting policies designed to lower the cost of living. They could do this by permitting slant drilling to offshore reserves of oil and natural gas, extraction of onshore shale gas, construction of a LNG terminal to export natural gas, construction of natural gas and nuclear power plants, and construction of massive desalination facilities on the Southern California coast. The energy required to desalinate seawater is actually less than the energy required to pump the same quantity of water over the Tehachapi mountains and into the Los Angeles basin. These are worthy topics for further study, because they would benefit ordinary Californians.

California’s elites, however, do not care about ordinary people. They hide behind extreme environmentalist scare scenarios – hatched by organizations whose directorships are opportunistically populated by trial lawyers and crony “green” capitalists. And, of course, thousands of public sector union jobs are created, as code enforcement officers fan out into the urban hinterland to enter our homes, peering behind our walls and into our ceilings, checking our pipes and wires, ferreting out the errant rebels.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Public Policy Center

5 replies
  1. ideaman7 says:

    One of the worst experiences of my life was when I was in a meeting with a code enforcement officer who literally screamed at my wife and I, “TEAR DOWN YOUR HOUSE!” I couldn’t believe that such an official existed in America – it felt so gestapo. Finally I was able to get a building permit to legalize my home (built without permits by the previous owner despite assurances to the contrary from the City, seller, and realtor), but not until spending $130,000, of which around $40,000 was endless taxes, fees, etc. It really felt like the city was looking for a bribe so they wouldn’t tear down my perfectly good home for no reason. If you haven’t experienced tyranny yourself, let me assure you that it’s awful!

  2. vultee48 says:

    I suppose that there is an element of truth in what Mr. Ring has to say, but to find it you will have to go to the sources that he thoughtfully cites to dig out those morsels. His “luminaires” (that’s bureaucrat-speak for “light”)” is a clever phrase and suggests that some state employee came up with the term. Actually, it turns out from his sources that it is the lighting industries term for a light fixture. Certainly this is a minor point and could be covered under artistic license. Also, Ring’s “If you want to know how to install lighting in your new or remodeled kitchen, you’ll need to wade through 58 pages of specifications” is absolutely true if you are going to do the work yourself. Most Californians, however, rely on electricians or contractors to do this work. These specifications are written for them.

    Ring states, “And starting in 2014, if you submit a building permit application to install a gas cook top, or a window, or a water heater, you will also have to have “low flow” toilets, faucets and shower heads throughout your entire home.” True again if your house was built before 1994 and these are parts of major renovation. But buying a new water heater, changing your windows or buying a new stove is hardly a major renovation. After 2017, if you decide to sell your pre 1994 house this will be an issue for you.

    Check Ring’s sources and decide for yourself if conservation of energy and water makes for good policy. In spite of increasing residential and commercial space, a variety of conservation efforts have helped electricity use to decrease over the last few years. It is one of the reasons we are going to be able to achieve that energy independence in the US.

    I am as suspicious of “elites” as the next person and the members of Ring’s California Public Policy Center are no exception. But his concern that “thousands of public sector union jobs are created, as code enforcement officers fan out into the urban hinterland to enter our homes, peering behind our walls and into our ceilings, checking our pipes and wires, ferreting out the errant rebels” sounds more like the theme for a zombie movie than a serious statement.

  3. Ed Ring says:

    Vultee48 – Thank you for granting artistic license regarding the “luminaires” section. The point was not about who made up the term, the point was that bureaucrats love to grab specialized jargon like that to clutter up the regulations the rest of us have to read and understand.

    The more pertinent concern is that many Californians can’t afford to hire a contractor every time they want to fix something in their home. We have to go get permits ourselves, and do the work ourselves. And maybe in that context, replacing every single faucet, installing additional “behind the wall” flow restrictors, replacing every toilet – and – if the work involves the kitchen, “hardwiring” every “luminaire” with specialized sockets is a major effort. If you dismiss the amount of work or expense this represents, perhaps you are a member of the privileged elite who make common cause with green extremists and public sector unions.

    As for conservation of energy and water, the intent of this post wasn’t to question reasonable measures to promote conservation. The point was that what California’s government is doing is unreasonable, particularly when no projects are proposed or permitted to significantly increase supplies of water or electricity in the state. Do you question the statistics provided in the post? Because they came from the California Water Commission and the Sierra Club. When it comes to indoor water consumption, all the conservation in the world will barely make a dent in California’s overall water picture. Experts generally agree on this point, but the bureaucrats and environmentalists have their way. Why?

    With respect to the admittedly dramatic visualization of code enforcement officers who will “fan into the urban hinterland,” I guess I don’t want this much intrusion into my personal life for what I perceive to be no good reason. I don’t want to install CFC bulbs, which cast unpleasant light and create a personal superfund site in my living room if they happen to break. I don’t want to take showers where the water barely comes out of the spigot. I want to pay a reasonable price for my water and my electricity, then do whatever I want to do with it in my home. And it is particularly nettlesome to realize that the people who are going to inspect my home are themselves profiting by these excessive rules. And we can thank the power of public sector unions for that. It has little to do with practical policies that might help the environment.

  4. Vultee48 says:

    Mr. Ring, I follow UnionWatch because I have serious concerns with public employee union’s leveraged political influence. But I don’t see them hiding behind low flow toilets and the more efficient lighting fixtures. I suspect that anyone who feels capable fixing a light or adding some new lighting to their home will do so and will use those fixtures that they find available at Home Depot or wherever they shop. It is doubtful to me that the majority of people who don’t feel comfortable handling a home electrical project will feel that they have moved into an “elite” status because they used an electrician.

    There is a desalination plant being built in Carlsbad and when it comes on line the cost of the water is estimated to be about twice the price of available water now. The water authority there is betting that the price of that available water will rise to match the plants water price. As it does, you don’t think home owners will be grateful for their water saving devices?

    You point out that your water summary chart shows a flat level of urban water use in spite of an increasing California population. Is there an explanation for this that does not involve water conservation efforts? You also mention a figure of 200 million acre feet of precipitation per year for California. Looking at your source for the chart I find that the 200 million acre feet of water per year for California includes our imported water, not just rain. Perhaps you should give us a figure for how much our potential water saving would be in terms of the imported water for which we pay. Could you also give us an estimate of what our water use would be now with our greater population if we were still using the high flow faucets and showers of the 90s?

    Bottom line, I don’t buy what your trying to sell. Do you really think we should reject one of the cheapest alternative for stretching our water and energy supply? Of the elites, are you talking about the stockholders of Home Depot or the owners of plumbing and lighting supply companies or the manufactures of lightening? Could you be more specific about who did what and when? Are the “greens” the water authorities dealing with the water shortages, or the power companies with their monthly flyers of energy saving tips. Finally on the unions, which you are supposed to be watching, can you give us an idea of how many new inspectors have been hired or are budgeted to be hired based on these laws?

  5. Ed Ring says:

    Vultee48: Sorry to take so long to get back to you. Apparently we agree that the “leveraged political influence” of public sector unions is something to be very concerned about. Pointing out the identity of interests between public sector unions and environmentalist pressure groups isn’t hard to do, but it isn’t obvious either. And the explanation is complicated by the fact that a lot of environmentalist inspired legislation is necessary and desirable.

    Having had the opportunity to sit in on early meetings of the “AB32 Implementation Group,” a committee of industry representatives who met regularly starting in 2007 to coordinate efforts to comply with California’s Global Warming Act, I personally heard reports coming from business representatives throughout the state, representing transportation, construction, manufacturing, land development, agriculture, timber, energy, and more. Each of them reported how public agencies were using AB32 to increase their revenue and grow their organizations.

    For example, with respect to urban land use, AB32 and companion legislation requires “concentric development” and in-fill, along with light rail over road improvement, etc. Public agencies were, and are, being empowered to calculate how much their interpretation of these laws will reduce CO2 emissions, then they will collect the proceeds of the CO2 emission auctions called for under AB32 according to how many tons of CO2 emissions they’ve saved. You could write a book about how AB32 has empowered spin-off legislation and ordinances that will explicitly channel funds into public agencies. And who has the strongest vested interest in increasing funding to public agencies?

    Your comment raises other complex issues that a brief response can’t satisfactorily address. Do we rely on market pricing for water in order to solve all our water issues? Doesn’t that crowd out low-income consumers? Do we subsidize low income consumers through imposing punitive costs on the middle class? Or do we try to avoid that by imposing draconian restrictions on use, if not rationing? But what too many people ignore is increasing the SUPPLY of energy and water, which obviously isn’t the only path, but ought to be a bigger part of the mix.

    As for your costs regarding desalination, I’m surprised the data on the Carlsbad plant only indicates a cost of twice the market price. But that is a pilot plant with no economies of scale or benefits of the experience curve. And it is priced in a market distorted by product labor agreements and what I believe are unreasonable and costly – if not ridiculous and prohibitive – environmental hurdles. If you study the capital costs and operating costs of very large desalination plants in the Middle East, Singapore, Australia, and even Texas (still just estimates there), you will see prices that would not represent a crushing burden on the consumer. Desalination – free of the politics – could be a competitive solution in California. And as I stated, the energy costs to lift water over the Tehachapi mountains is MORE than the energy required to desalinate seawater.

    One more thing. You asked about water imports to California. Only about 2.0 million acre feet – about 1% of normal precipitation – are imported into California. Most of that comes from the Colorado River aqueduct, plus a smaller amount from the Klamath River. So the primary point remains: You could cut indoor residential water use by 50%, and that would amount to about 1% of the normal rainfall hitting California.

    We should encourage conservation. But forcing anyone who wants to improve their home to first spend thousands of dollars on “low-flow” appliances and plumbing is going too far. We should develop runoff storage, aquifer storage, quaternary sewage treatment, grey water systems, and desalination. Those solutions would benefit all Californians.

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