Report from Best of GreenBuild: Delaware DNREC head Collin O'Mara LEEDs rallying cry for green builders

Collin O'Mara | photo courtesy seu-de.orgThere was a moment during Thursday’s Delaware Valley Green Building Council Best of GreenBuild event when Delaware’s 31-year-old Secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources and Environmental Control, Collin O’Mara, dropped his script and got real with his audience.

“There’s so much noise coming from the right,” the tall and boyish O’Mara said, departing the podium and his staff-prepared notes. “And it’s about to get worse.”

O’Mara encouraged the crowd of LEED-certified professionals (he’s one himself), architects, builders, nonprofit workers, academics and students to “step up our game” to counter the growing chorus of “Drill, Baby, Drill” on the political right.

O’Mara said he’d been accosted a day earlier by a Tea Party member whose argument—“the most asinine argument I’ve ever heard”—consisted of telling O’Mara to stop championing conservation and efficiency because it was getting in the way of new domestic energy exploitation.

The crowd was already a bit on its heels, fresh off the signing earlier in the week of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s first bill, HB 377 (pdf), which transformed the commonwealth’s process for adopting updates to its building codes. The new law takes the state from an “opt-out” model, wherein expert-approved codes would automatically update, to an “opt-in” mechanism, where any updates will need a supermajority vote among a Corbett-appointed council, which also added a new seat for a general contractor.

“They just made it almost impossible to update the codes,” said Janet Milkman, the DVGBC’s executive director. “It means we’re not a forward-looking state. It means that manufacturers of energy-efficient products are not going to have a market in Pennsylvania.”

So the crowd was primed to hear O’Mara’s call to arms. The Delaware DNREC secretary urged the audience to sell the economic benefits of building green to the politicians and especially the public.

“All of you can make the environmental argument, all of you can make the competitiveness argument,” O’Mara said. “But we haven’t come up with a way to tie it all together to make it more compelling than this other narrative, about drilling and new sources of fossil fuel.”

“The case we can make is the economic one,” he said, citing the savings on energy bills that this LEED-certified crowd knew by heart. “And we’re missing a huge opportunity to make prosperity out of this economic moment.”