Time’s Up for Trump’s DOE on Delayed Efficiency Standards

The DOE has missed deadlines for reviewing standards that could save consumers at least $22 billion annually.
Credit: DOE

11/9/2020: NRDC and partner organizations announced they and a number of states have filed suit over the delayed standards.

Updated 10/29/2020 to show a total of 25 standards as two types of commercial air conditioners are part of the same standards-setting process.

NRDC and several partner groups gave the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) notice today that they plan to sue over its complete abdication of its duty to review and update energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment like freezers, water heaters, and clothes dryers. Under President Trump, the DOE has missed an unprecedented number of statutorily mandated deadlines for reviewing and updating 25 appliance and equipment standards that could save U.S. consumers at least $22 billion annually on their utility bills by 2035.

And that savings number only represents 15 of the 25 delayed standards where recent savings projections are available, so the true cost of delay is much higher.

The DOE's appliance and equipment standards are the reason your refrigerator, clothes washer, and other major appliances use far less energy today than they did back in 1987, when the program was created under a Republican president, a Republican Senate, and a Democratic House. Developed in concert with manufacturers—and required by law to be updated on a regular basis—the standards will help the United States avoid 7 billion tons of carbon pollution by 2030.

The statute that authorizes the appliance and equipment standard program—the Energy Policy Conservation Act (EPCA)—was designed to ensure the products we use continue getting more energy efficient over time. EPCA contains an anti-backsliding provision which means that, once set, standards may not be weakened. And EPCA sets strict deadlines for DOE to regularly review product standards and, when appropriate, update those standards to ensure the maximum improvement in energy efficiency that is technologically feasible and economically justified.

DOE is ignoring the law

EPCA works very well when actually implemented. However, the DOE under President Trump has shown little interest in complying with the statutorily required deadlines or achieving its goals of increased energy efficiency. In three-and-a-half years, the DOE has missed 25 deadlines for reviewing and updating efficiency standards, and even more for updating and finalizing test procedures. It hasn’t issued a single new standard to increase product efficiency. In fact, it has gone in the opposite direction by taking numerous steps to try to weaken standards already on the books, and ensure that future standards are less effective at reducing energy consumption and consumer electricity bills.

NRDC is fighting back on all fronts. We sued—and won—over standards that were finalized during the Obama administration but never published by the Trump administration. We’re involved in current lawsuits challenging DOE’s attempt to weaken lighting standards and over harmful changes to the process DOE uses to set standards. And beyond just efficiency standards, NRDC has sued the Trump administration 120 times since 2017, with a success rate of more than 90 percent.

And when it comes to overdue standards, we are fighting back too. EPCA allows private groups like NRDC to sue DOE when it fails to meet a deadline for reviewing and updating efficiency standards. This is exactly what NRDC did in 2004, when the George W. Bush administration had missed deadlines to update over 20 product efficiency standards. That case resulted in a landmark consent decree that set new, binding deadlines for each standard and reinvigorated an efficiency program that had essentially come to a standstill.

Today, we’re facing an unprecedented number of delayed standards, costing consumers money and leading to excessive pollution emissions. With this lawsuit, we will take the first step toward reinvigorating the program again.

EPCA requires us to give 60 days’ notice before filing suit over these overdue standards. Joining us are Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity (with Earthjustice as their counsel); Consumer Federation of America; the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants (with National Consumer Law Center as its counsel), and Public Citizen. Separately, 15 states plus the District of Columbia and the City of New York sent DOE a similar letter.

The DOE must fulfill its obligations to review and update efficiency standards. It is what the law requires, and it would benefit all Americans, our economy, and our environment, protecting our children both now and in the future. Today, we put DOE on notice: if it does not comply with its duties under EPCA in the next 60 days, we will see them in court.

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