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Press Release
January 16, 2004

Press contact: Kit Kennedy, 212-727-4463 or 347-563-2864 (cell)
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The Benefits of Reinstating the Clinton Air Conditioner Standard

On January 13, a federal appeals court reinstated the Clinton administration central air conditioner and heat pump standard, ruling that the Bush administration had violated the law when it rolled it back. This standard, completed in January 2001 at the end of a seven-year public process, will improve the energy efficiency of new central air conditioners and heat pumps by 30 percent. Now, with the court's decision, all new equipment sold in the United States must comply with the new standard by January 2006.

After coming into office, the Bush administration first delayed the standard, and then weakened it in May 2002. Because the rollback would have increased national energy consumption, raised summertime utility bills for millions of Americans, and increased power plant pollution, NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), 10 state attorney generals, led by Eliot Spitzer of New York, and consumer groups sued the Bush administration over the rollback.

The Bush Rollback Would Have Increased Electricity Consumption

Air conditioner efficiency is rated by what is called a seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER. The Clinton administration boosted the standard from the current level of SEER 10, established by Congress in 1987, to SEER 13, a 30 percent improvement. The Bush Department of Energy weakened the standard to SEER 12. This rollback would have sacrificed about one-third of the savings from the Clinton SEER 13 standard.

In 2020, annual consumption of electricity would have been 12.6 billion kilowatt-hours higher under the Bush rollback, equivalent to the total annual power used by about 1.2 million households). In 2030, annual consumption of electricity would have been 17.5 billion kilowatt-hours higher, equivalent to the total annual power used by about 1.7 million households.

The Bush Rollback Would Have Increased Peak Electricity Demand

In 2020, peak electricity demand would have been 14,500 megawatts higher under the Bush rollback, equivalent to the output of about 48 average-sized (300 megawatt) power plants. In 2030, peak demand would have been 20,000 megawatts higher, equivalent to the output of about 67 average-sized (300 MW) power plants.

Under the Bush rollback, from 2006 -- the year the standard should go into effect -- through 2030, U.S. households would have used an additional 252 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, equivalent to the amount of power used by about 25 million households in one year.

The Bush Rollback Would Have Increased Consumer Costs

In 2020, consumers would have paid another $1 billion to run air conditioners under the Bush rollback. In 2030, consumers would have paid another $1.4 billion to run air conditioners.

From 2006 through 2030, U.S. consumers would have paid $21 billion more to run air conditioners under the rollback.

The consumer energy bill savings from the SEER 13 standard outweigh the estimated higher purchase price of new central air conditioners. The Department of Energy Department (under both Clinton and Bush) estimates the net savings of a 13 SEER standard to be between $1 billion and $5 billion. In addition, DOE's estimate of the effect of the new standard on the price of new air conditioners and heat pumps is probably too high. If DOE overestimated the price increase, the net savings will be even greater.

The Bush Rollback Would Have Increased Air Pollution

In 2020, power plant carbon emissions would have been 2.5 million metric tons higher under the Bush rollback, equivalent to the annual output of about 1.7 million cars. In 2030, carbon emission would have been 3.5 million metric tons higher, equivalent to the output of about 2.3 million cars).

From 2006 through 2030, the power plants would have emitted another 51 million metric tons of carbon under the Bush rollback, equivalent to the annual carbon emissions from 34 million cars. Moreover, the rollback would have increased nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and soot pollution from power plants at precisely those times that most areas have their worst air pollution problems -- on hot summer days.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and e-activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
January 13, 2004, Administration Rollback of Energy Standards Illegal: Air Conditioners Must Comply with 2001 Regulations


1. The savings estimates in this fact sheet were developed for the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP) by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) using data and information from the Department of Energy (DOE) and independent energy analysts. In a separate, independent analysis published in July 2000, ACEEE found the additional electricity savings, consumer bill savings, peak power capacity savings, and pollution reductions achieved by a SEER 13 standard relative to a SEER 12 standard to be about 50 percent higher than those reported here (i.e. the estimates above are conservative).

2. The peak savings figures reported here are somewhat higher than figures reported by DOE. DOE uses an inappropriately low estimate of the contribution to peak demand made by central air conditioning. ACEEE improves on the DOE estimate by considering data on air conditioning use from several representative regions.

3. Consumer bill savings reported here are based on DOE's projections of future retail residential electricity prices developed in 1999 plus 2.6 cents per kilowatt hour to reflect the higher cost of power during peak months as estimated by Synapse Energy Economics. Synapse found even higher prices during peak hours. Without the additional 2.6 cents per kilowatt hour, savings in 2020 would be $700 million, savings in 2030 would be $900 million, and cumulative savings would be $13.7 billion.


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