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Secret Deal Helped Housing Industry Stop Tougher Rules on Climate Change

WASHINGTON — A secret agreement has allowed the nation’s homebuilders to make it much easier to block changes to building codes that would require new houses to better address climate change, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The written arrangement, in place for years and not previously disclosed, guarantees industry representatives four of the 11 voting seats on two powerful committees that approve building codes that are widely adopted nationwide. The pact has helped enable the trade group that controls the seats, the National Association of Home Builders, to prevent changes that would have made new houses in much of the country more energy-efficient or more resilient to floods, hurricanes and other disasters.

The agreement shows that homebuilders accrued “excessive power over the development of regulations that governed them,” said Bill Fay, head of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, which has pushed for more aggressive standards. Homes accounted for nearly one-fifth of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions nationwide last year.

While four seats is a minority on the two committees, which focus on residential building codes, the bloc of votes makes it tougher to pass revisions that the industry opposes. Before the homebuilders gained seats on the committee that handles energy, for example, the energy efficiency of those building codes increased 32 percent over six years, according to a federal analysis. After the industry’s influence expanded, that number was less than 3 percent over the same amount of time.

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Christopher Flavelle covers climate adaptation, focusing on how people, governments and businesses respond to the effects of global warming. @cflav