Earlier this month, the Utah Home Builders Association’s annual awards gala was interrupted by a group of clean air advocates. The demonstrators gathered outside of the event to denounce the organization by accusing them of deterring efforts to fight for cleaner air in Utah.
Representatives from Utah Moms for Clear Air, HEAL Utah, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment participated in the rally. They waved signs in protest and handed out pamphlets to those who passed by, claiming they were raising awareness of “the association’s role in trying to defeat some of the clean air policies the state proposed last year.”
“Actions taken by the Utah Home Builders Association have been instrumental in delaying the approval of both the low-nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitter water heaters rule, and the revised 2015 state building code,” said Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah.
According to an article published by the Salt Lake Tribune, it was the Home Builders Association that raised objections to both issues. The update to the state building code was tabled in committee and the water heaters rule was placed on a “sunset list” that would “kill the rule barring further legislative action.”
Pacenza believes that the public is does not know of these actions against clean air proposals. The point of the rally, he says, was to raise awareness and hopefully get the public to agree that the association is wrong in lobbying against their initiatives.
“We want the public to understand that this is the direction we must go, and that we have this powerful trade association standing in the way,” he said. “And we want individual builders to push from within. Maybe this doesn’t reflect what the members want.”
Ross Ford, the executive vice president of the Utah Home Builders Association, is speaking up in defense of the clean air advocate’s claims. He said, “I don’t think there is anybody, including [the demonstrators], who is more dedicated to clean air and a healthy environment than us. We haven’t blocked any good sense rules. There have been some things that were moved forward in a fairly illegal fashion, but we’re not actively blocking anything that works.”
The illegal proceedings are in reference to the water heaters rule, which the Air Quality Board passed without first addressing concerns about the functionality of the heating systems.
“There is a significant concern about the safety of the [low NOx] water heater,” said Ford. “We want to make sure it runs through the proper group of experts. That’s all we’ve asked for…. If this is what everyone says it is, we’re 100 percent in support of it.”
Until the clean air initiatives are settled, experts suggest making small changes in homes to increase energy efficiency and eco-friendliness. For example, simply replacing standard windows with energy efficient windows can lower energy bills by up to 15%.
For now, the tension between the activists and the Home Builders Association members. Ford continues to insist that the Association does have the environment in mind when making executive decisions.