The Biden administration is proposing important changes to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) appliance efficiency program, taking the first steps necessary for repairing damage done by the Trump administration and making it easier to save consumers money and keep pollution out of our air. These changes to DOE’s “Process Rule”—which sets the framework for how the agency regulates appliances and equipment to ensure that everyone in the country has access to energy efficient products—are a continuation of the Biden administration’s strong start on smarter energy use.
This is the administration’s first major regulatory action to address DOE’s efficiency program. It’s a welcome change from the past four years, when the program was under siege through both neglect, leading DOE to miss numerous legal deadlines, and active disruption, leading to numerous regulations that weakened the program.
When the Trump administration altered the Process Rule, adding unnecessary red tape and making it easier to reject cost-effective energy efficiency standards, NRDC and others sued. The new proposal, soon to be published in the Federal Register, doesn’t resolve every issue in that case, but it’s a great start. (The case remains in abeyance to give the Biden DOE the opportunity to address issues with the previous rule without requiring the time and expense of resolving the lawsuit.) Because the Trump administration did so little on energy efficiency standards, the harmful changes to the Process Rule haven’t had a tremendous direct impact so far, but they would have been an enormous going forward.
One of the changes made by the Trump DOE was setting an arbitrary baseline for “significant savings” to establish a new standard. About 40 percent of the standards already on the books today could not have met it, which means consumers and businesses would have paid several billion dollars more on their utility bills and there would have been more power plant pollution associated with running less efficient appliances and equipment. Those standards are among those responsible for already saving each U.S. household an average of $500 annually on their energy bills.
DOE’s new proposal would repeal these harmful, unnecessary thresholds. It also would remove a plethora of provisions added by the Trump administration that would have greatly hindered the program and made it harder to set energy saving standards. DOE also wants to restore flexibility to respond to the unique characteristics of the specific products it regulates when setting standards instead of the one-size-fits-all approach required by the Trump administration.
As DOE noted in the proposal, it’s important to avoid burdening the program with overly prescriptive requirements when the department is already facing lawsuits from NRDC, other consumer and environmental groups, and numerous states over the department’s failure to meet its legal deadlines to review and possibly update efficiency standards.
As part of the announcement of these changes, DOE stated that it will be conducting a webinar to discuss the new rule. NRDC expects to fully participate and will continue to monitor the rulemaking process to help ensure DOE succeeds in getting the program back on track.
After all, the program is too important to ignore. DOE’s efficiency standards have been quietly saving consumers money, and reducing air pollution from electricity generation, for decades; it’s important to keep it that way. As my colleague Kit Kennedy has written (highlighting a recent report from the Appliance Standards Awareness Project), strong efficiency standards could avoid up to 2.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. That’s like eliminating the emissions of 25 coal plants over that period.
That’s not too bad for a program that DOE has projected will have saved consumers $2 trillion on utility bills by 2030.
NRDC looks forward to working with the administration to ensure that these benefits only continue to grow.