The energy bill now wending its way through the legislative process in the U.S. House of Representatives could mean big changes in the products home builders build and, for the first time ever, impose federal control and civil penalties on builders, homeowners, and commercial and multifamily buildings.

H.R. 2454, the "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009" but dubbed "cap-and-trade" after its provisions regarding carbon emissions, was introduced May 15 and has since been cleared by numerous committees but still has not been scheduled for debate on the floor of the House. It would, among many other controversial provisions, mandate increases in the energy efficiency of homes of 30% upon enactment and 50% above standards set under the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) by 2014, increasing by 5% in 2017 and increasing another 5% each three years thereafter until 2030. It would supercede state and local building codes regarding energy efficiency, withhold federal money from states deemed out of compliance and provide civil penalties for builders and/or homeowners. Each day of occupancy of a structure deemed out of compliance would be treated as a separate violation.

The bill states, "In the event a building constructed out of compliance with the applicable code has been conveyed by a knowing builder or knowing seller to an unknowing purchaser, the builder or seller shall be the violator." It gives significant new oversight and enforcement powers to the Department of Energy and the Cabinet-level post of Secretary of Energy.

A coalition of construction and building management groups reacted with alarm to the bill by dispatching a letter to California Democratic Rep.Henry Waxman, a cosponsor and a chief architect of the bill and chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the committee. The coalition, comprised of the National Association of Home Builders, the Building Owners and Managers Association, the International International Council of Shopping Centers, NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, the National Apartment Association, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, the National Association of Realtors, the National Multi Housing Council and The Real Estate Roundtable, said the section of the bill establishing the targets and providing penalties for noncompliance would "have a chilling effect on development and property transfer across the spectrum of real properties."

"The proposal, as currently written, makes faulty or unproven economic and technical assumptions about the viability of achieving certain energy efficiency targets for buildings and homes," the letter stated."Additionally, the proposal creates new authority for the federal government to police building codes; holds developers and owners of buildings - including homeowners--liable for not reaching federal energy efficient mandates even if the buildings are presumably in compliance with applicable local building codes; and establishes a civil penalty for violators of this section of the bill."

Elizabeth Odina, federal legislative director for NAHB, said in an interview with Big Builder Online Thursday that the timetable for consideration of the bill is still up in the air, but since it has already been cleared by several powerful committees, she does not expect changes in the targets or enforcement provisions, which were promulgated by Waxman himself. She said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had originally said she intended to move the bill onto the floor before July 4 but that meeting that deadline, given the current House agenda, looked increasingly unlikely.

Prospects that the bill as it stands now will become law are clouded by actions to date in the Senate, according to Odina. Several energy bills have been marked up in Senate ocmmittees, and none, to date, contain the stringent targets or penalties that are in the House version. Moreover, the Senate bills so far do not include a "cap-and-trade" provision, which is considered among the most controversial aspects of the House bill.

In other sections, the bill also seeks to impose new regulation on appliance makers, including one that would establish "state injunctive enforcement of standards violations" and also seeks to change "the role of appliance efficiency in building codes; and including greenhouse gas emissions, smart grid capability, and availability of more-efficient models among factors affecting efficiency standard ratings." It would also amend the Energy Star certification program to mandate that "Energy Star products must be cost-effective, recovering incremental purchase price in expected energy savings during a 3-5 year period."