DOE Takes Step to Undo Harmful Process Changes


Department of Energy

Update 11/30/21: On Nov. 19th DOE released a pre-publication version of a final rule, the first of two, revising important aspects of the Process Rule. These revisions restore flexibility to the program and clear the way for the next generation of energy- and money-saving standards.

Update 7/8/21: DOE has published additional revisions to the Process Rule that would further strengthen the program.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has begun to repair some of the damage dealt by the Trump administration to DOE’s appliance efficiency program. DOE’s latest proposal, on which NRDC commented on May 27th, would eliminate unnecessary delays and red tape from the appliance standard rulemaking process. It remove burdensome one-size-fits-all procedural requirements, and eliminate arcane—not to mention harmful and illegal—changes designed to make it harder for DOE to save consumers money and reduce pollution emitted into the atmosphere.

At the center of this issue is DOE’s Process Rule, the procedure DOE follows when setting appliance and equipment standards. This might sound like an issue that only an administrative law nerd could love, but the stakes are quite real. By DOE’s own estimates, the program is projected to have saved consumers $2 trillion on utility bills while avoiding 3 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2030. The Process Rule outlines the—surprise, surprise—process that DOE uses while setting efficiency standards and test procedures for measuring efficiency. Sabotage to the Process Rule finalized under the previous administration put enormous future program benefits in jeopardy.

DOE’s proposal is the latest example of extensive NRDC participation in this area. When the Trump administration first suggested in 2017 that they might make it harder to set pro-consumer, pro-environment efficiency standards, NRDC explained why they had the wrong idea. When DOE formalized its proposal, we kept up the pressure. When DOE charged ahead despite the numerous factual and legal errors with its proposal, NRDC and others sued.

As I’ve previously written, the Trump administration’s revisions to the Process Rule added arbitrary requirements designed to make it harder to set efficiency standards. It also greatly (and needlessly) extended the amount of time that it would take to set a standard, among other changes. The consequences of these changes, if unaddressed, would be more money spent by consumers, more pollution in the air we breathe, and an increase in climate-warming carbon emissions.

As DOE noted while proposing to repair this damage, it’s particularly inappropriate to intentionally burden the program with red tape when DOE has been sued (by NRDC, in conjunction with other NGOs and a coalition of states) for failing to meet over two dozen congressionally-mandated deadlines to review and update efficiency standards.

DOE’s latest proposal thankfully addresses much of the harm from the Trump administration’s revisions. However, as we explained in our comments, we believe that there are a few outstanding issues where DOE could further refine the rule, and we’ve urged them to do just that.

Given the attention and care the Biden administration has given to federal energy efficiency issues, we are optimistic that further positive changes will be forthcoming. No matter the outcome, NRDC will continue our engagement with this program to protect both consumers and the environment.

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