Missouri energy plan promoting energy efficiency faces challenges

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A newly unveiled state energy plan recommends that Missouri enact minimum building standards aimed at increasing efficiency and saving money, but it's unclear whether such policy goals have a shot at becoming a reality in the state, at least in the current political climate.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon in a 2014 executive order called for the state energy officials to develop the plan, rolled out publicly this month, to guide energy policy in the state. But it's ultimately up to lawmakers and the state's public utility commission to enact many of the policies, and proposals such as the building code have previously failed to gain traction in the Legislature.

Missouri is one of nine states without statewide requirements to ensure new and renovated buildings are constructed in a way that's energy efficient. In addition to the environmental benefits, proponents say such standards save residents and businesses money by reducing energy consumption.

The Comprehensive State Energy Plan recommends that Missouri adopt a statewide energy code for new construction in the wealthiest counties and charter counties, allow counties with a lower assessed value to enact building codes if they want them and pitch individual municipalities on the "benefits of building codes and how to enforce them."

Previous attempts to enact building codes have had little success in the Legislature. Bills in 2010 and 2011 failed to make it out of committee, in part because of opposition to forcing standards on cities and counties that might not have the money to hire someone to enforce regulations.

"Cities need that flexibility to respond to local situations and not have to comply with a statewide mandate that may not apply to a specific situation in a community," Missouri Municipal League Deputy Director Richard Sheets said.

Missouri now allows counties with the highest assessed value, charter counties and municipalities to adopt standards, and about half the state's population lives somewhere that's subject to minimum requirements, according to the plan.

Adopting new regulations next legislative session, which will precede elections, would be particularly challenging in the Republican-led Legislature. Lawmakers raised doubts about their chance of success.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, said legislation on statewide minimum standards would require "some serious lobbying, some serious debate before we get that very far down the road." He said he hasn't reviewed the recommendations but generally supports a statewide building code.

Rep. T.J. Berry, the Republican chairman of a House committee responsible for overseeing energy policy, voiced similar skepticism.

"I don't think that is going to be able to go through the General Assembly, at least it hasn't the last two times," the Kearney lawmaker said. "I don't know that the State Energy Plan will change people's decision."

Berry said there's a disconnect between the administration and lawmakers, who he said were not among those invited to help draft the standards. No lawmakers served on the energy steering committee.

But the Department of Economic Development's Energy Division policy director, Kristy Manning, said in a statement that lawmakers were invited to give feedback during several public hearings on the plan, had access to a briefing on policy recommendations and were updated during several hearings of another House energy committee.

"Delivering the Plan this fall provides policymakers, including administration officials, regulators and legislators sufficient time before session to review the data, materials and analysis contained in the Plan," Manning said, "as well as the recommendations in order to determine which recommendations to pursue in 2016 and beyond."

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