Illegal Delays of Standards Will Jeopardize Savings

Credit: ASAP

NRDC is joining other environmental organizations and consumer advocacy groups in legal action against the Trump administration’s U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for stalling six energy efficiency standards finalized last year. Billions of dollars of consumer savings are at risk due to the delays, which are illegal, unnecessary, and simply unacceptable.

We’ve filed a lawsuit over the delay in the new energy efficiency standard for ceiling fans, which are found in 80 million U.S. homes, and today we also put the Department of Energy on notice that we’ll also sue if five other energy-saving standards aren’t immediately published in the Federal Register to trigger their effective dates.

In 2016 DOE issued the six standards, which are projected to save households and businesses up to $23 billion over 30 years, but the Trump administration has blocked them from taking effect.

The groups working with NRDC in the legal actions are the Sierra Club and the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy organization. Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy is also joining the lawsuit over the delays for ceiling fans.

In addition, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the City of New York have also taken legal action to challenge the delays. More information on the states’ legal actions is available here.

As required by a law signed by President Reagan, the DOE has been creating energy efficiency standards for household appliances and industrial equipment since 1987. Standards have already saved consumers billions of dollars on energy bills and each one is the result of a transparent, years-long process that involves input from manufacturers, utilities, top research scientists, energy efficiency advocates, and the public. The timeline for issuing and updating standards is established by law. Energy efficiency standards have spurred American innovation, protected American-made products from inferior imports and slashed energy bills for American consumers—all while reducing the need to build more expensive and polluting power plants.

Here is some more information about each of the six energy efficiency standards which have been delayed by the Trump DOE:

Ceiling Fans

Standards for ceiling fans were finalized and published in the Federal Register in January 2017. The standard would reduce the energy use of this equipment by approximately 26 percent without any reduction in effectiveness. About 80 million U.S. households have at least one ceiling fan, and the standard will save consumers up to $12 billion over the next 30 years. The rule should have gone in to effect in February, with a manufacturer compliance date of 2020. 

Credit: DOE

Instead however, the Trump DOE has twice delayed the effective date of the rule, without providing any public notice or opportunity for public comment. Most recently, in March, the Trump DOE announced it would push back the effective date of the ceiling fan standard until September, claiming that DOE needed six months to “review” the standard. This leaves manufacturers in a state of uncertainty and raises concerns that DOE will attempt to weaken the rule. This would be illegal: by law, DOE is not allowed to “backslide” or weaken an efficiency standard once it has been finalized.  

But if manufacturers decide to hold off on starting the process to re-tool their product lines due to the uncertainty created by the DOE, they could lose precious time, because there has been no change in the compliance date—which is when they can no longer make ceiling fans that do not meet the standard. The delay could mean that manufacturers have less time to develop products that are up to the mark.

For these reasons, on Friday, NRDC and other consumer and environmental groups filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, challenging DOE’s illegal delays to the effective date of the ceiling fan standard.

Rules Subject to Error Correction

In some cases, the DOE’s rule-making process includes an “error correction” period, a 45-day window between the finalization and announcement of a new standard and its official publication in the Federal Register, which allows specific technical errors to be identified addressed. The DOE has failed to publish five standards announced under the Obama Administration that are subject to this rule. These include the first-ever national standards for uninterruptible power supplies, the battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out; as well as portable air conditioners, air compressors, walk-in coolers and freezers, and commercial packaged boilers. These five standards alone generate more than $11 billion in energy bill savings, as well as 25 million metric tons of climate pollution reductions—and they are being held in limbo for no reason.  

According to DOE’s own regulations, the error-correction window allows only for the identification and correction of specific technical errors. It does not provide an opportunity to reconsider or weaken an efficiency standard or to undo the fundamental years of work that go into creating reasonable, cost-effective standards. No one identified any errors during the error correction period for four of the five standards.  DOE has a legal duty to publish these standards immediately. For one of the standards (commercial boilers), several parties requested error correction. DOE has a legal duty to publish this standard immediately, either in its original form or corrected, if a revision is technically and legally warranted.

It’s important that these standards go forward because standards spur American innovation, protect U.S.-made products from inferior imports, and slash energy bills for American consumers—all while reducing the need to build more expensive and polluting power plants.

A bit more about each of the “in-limbo” rules subject to the error-correction process:

Portable Air Conditioners

Approximately 1 million portable air conditioners—standalone, moveable cooling units that are not permanently installed in walls and windows—are sold each year. Historically, portable air conditioners   have been energy hogs with performance that is worse than room air conditioners, since they have never before had to meet an energy efficiency standard. The new standard will cut energy use by about 20 percent and save consumers an average of $125 over the life of the product without any reduction in cooling capacity. There were no errors identified for this standard.  

Air Compressors

Air compressors are found in commercial and industrial products, like robots used for manufacturing or large paint sprayers. If you’ve used one of those machines at gas stations to put more air in your tires, you’ve interacted with a compressor. This is the first national standard for air compressors, and businesses upgrading to new equipment will see a payback through reduced energy costs in 2.5 to 5 years, well within their 13-year lifespan. There were no errors identified for this standard.

Uninterruptible Power Supplies

Uninterruptible power supplies are battery backup systems used to keep equipment running when the power goes out, and are used in a variety of equipment including computers and other electronic devices. There are about 40 million uninterruptible power supplies in use today, with about 8 million shipped annually. The standard will generate a 15 percent savings in electricity use, and this is the first national standard for this product. There were no errors identified for this standard.

Walk-In Coolers and Freezers

Walk-in coolers and freezers are the cases found in every supermarket, convenience store, and restaurant. This standard, which covers the refrigeration systems in this equipment, was set through a negotiation between advocates, manufacturers, and the DOE. It adds to a 2014 rule that established separate standards for doors and panels of these systems. Taken together, these standards will save consumers up to $3,300 over the life of the equipment. There were no errors identified for this standard.

Commercial Packaged Boilers

More than a quarter of the nation’s commercial floor space is heated by packaged boilers. Business customers will save between $200 and $36,000, depending on the type of boiler. The new rules require increasing the efficiency from 80 percent efficiency to 81 to 88 percent efficiency, which means the boilers will convert more of the incoming fuel to useful heat. Error correction requests were submitted for this standard by the American Gas Association, the American Public Gas Association, AHRI, and Spire. However, the errors identified by these groups do not meet the definition of an “error” as defined by the DOE.

The DOE’s illegal stalling tactics are undermining a program with a 30-year track record of success, leaving manufacturers in a cloud of uncertainty—and consumers paying the price. That’s wrong and the situation needs to be remedied as soon as possible for the benefit of America’s households, businesses, and manufacturers.