Court Upholds Energy Efficiency Standards for Small Motors, Leading to Big Energy Savings

Every step forward we take on energy efficiency in the United States is cause for celebration.  So join me in a toast to a small triumph for more efficient small motors! Yesterday, NRDC received a favorable decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upholding new energy efficiency standards issued by the federal Department of Energy (DOE) for small electric motors.  After DOE issued these standards, a trade association challenged the standards in court.  NRDC then submitted an amicus (or “friend of the court” ) brief on behalf of DOE to defend the standards. 

These standards, issued in 2010, cover small electric motors of the sort used in pumps, fans and blowers, woodworking machinery, conveyors, air compressors, commercial laundry equipment, service industry machines, food processing machines, farm machinery, machine tools, packaging machinery and the like. 

 Here’s why we should celebrate this decision:

  • Because there are so many of these small motors, DOE estimates that by increasing their efficiency, we’ll save large amounts of energy.   In fact, over the next thirty years, these efficiency standards will cumulatively save an amount of energy equivalent to about 2.2 percent of total annual U.S. energy consumption.  The standards will avoid the need to build eight new power plants, as well as avoiding cumulative greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking approximately 25 million cars off the road in a year.

The decision also means that NRDC’s long record of winning or favorably settling all of its litigation related to energy efficiency standards remains unbroken.  I’ve written about how, in the past, NRDC has not hesitated to go to court to sue DOE when the agency has attempted to weaken or delay efficiency standards, and we’ve won all those cases.    Now, with the agency more committed to moving forward on energy efficiency, we are going to court to defend strong efficiency standards with equal success, as this decision shows. 

Congratulations to my colleagues Tim Ballo of Earthjustice, who took the lead on the brief for NRDC, and to my former colleague Christine Chang, who worked with me on the case while she was a public interest fellow with NRDC, and to our colleagues at DOE and the Department of Justice who represented the agency. 

You can read the decision here.