The House's War on Energy Efficiency Standards

This blog was co-written by Meg Waltner and Kit Kennedy

Under a federal law signed by President Reagan in 1987, the Department of Energy sets cost-effective and technically feasible energy efficiency standards for dozens of household and commercial products, making sure that these products deliver the same or better level of services while using much less electricity and natural gas.  President George H.W. Bush and President George Bush both signed into law amendments to this program which made it even stronger.   For decades, this program has been a winning proposition for consumers, the electric grid and clean air. 

 As Meg has written, these efficiency standards will save consumers a whopping $1.1 trillion cumulatively in lower energy bills by 2035, while reducing electricity use by 14% and lowering global warming air pollution equivalent to the emissions of 118 coal-fired power plants.  Future energy efficiency standards will add significantly to all these benefits.   Energy efficiency standards have a strong history of support by consumer groups, utilities, manufacturers and trade associations.

 Who could possibly have a problem with this success story?

 Well, just the Republican majority in our own House of Representatives.  Late last night,  the House added several riders to the FY 13 Energy and Water appropriations bill that if enacted would prevent the Department of Energy (DOE) from issuing or enforcing common sense energy and water efficiency standards for several products.  This attack on energy and water efficiency standards, which have a long history of bipartisan support, is disheartening and irresponsible.    

 Light Bulb Efficiency Standards

 Representative Mike Burgess (R. TX) offered an amendment which would prevent DOE from enforcing efficiency standards for light bulbs. These standards have been in effect for the past six months and were signed into law by President Bush in 2007. They require bulbs to be 25-30 percent more efficient and have driven innovation in the lighting industry, including the development of new energy-efficient incandescent bulbs, which look and light just like the century-old Edison bulb, but save consumers money on their energy bills.  Consumers will save approximately $100 per year on their energy bills as a result of the standards.  For all these reasons, an effort by the House to repeal these standards last year failed.

Under the Burgess amendment, the standards themselves remain the law of the land – but DOE isn’t allowed to enforce them.   As our colleague Christina Angelides writes, American manufacturers have created thousands of jobs manufacturing efficient lighting right here in the United States.  Undermining DOE’s ability to enforce the standards puts these jobs at risk and undermines US manufacturers that are complying with the standards by allowing foreign manufacturers and importers to sell illegal bulbs made outside the U.S. without fear of repercussion.  U.S. manufacturers and their trade association, the National Electric Manufacturers Association, strongly support lighting efficiency and oppose this light bulb rider.  It’s not only wrong-headed but also grossly irresponsible to U.S. industries that Congress should be working to protect and support.   What happened to law and order as a principle that Congress should uphold?

Water Efficiency Standards

An amendment offered by Rep. Schweikert (R. AZ) would prevent DOE from enforcing water efficiency standards for shower heads that were enacted by Congress in 1992.  U.S. manufacturers successfully modified their product lines long ago to meet or surpass these standards.  As our colleague Ed Osann has written, consumers and communities have saved billions of dollars in water, wastewater, and energy utility costs due to these and other water efficiency standards.  Water use per household has been clearly trending downward throughout the country for the last 15 years, largely due to these standards.

Only recently has DOE awoken to the need to take enforcement action against a small number of producers, many of them offshore suppliers, who are manufacturing or importing products that fail to conform to US standards.  This amendment strips away DOE’s enforcement authority, leaving US manufacturers on their own to investigate and prosecute violations of the statutory standards in private civil actions.  This is an unfair burden to place on manufacturers and distributors of compliant products, 

Battery Chargers

As required by Congress under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, DOE is currently working establish standards for battery chargers and external power supplies, which  on average dissipate twice as much energy as waste heat as is actually stored in the batteries.   As it always does and as is required by law, DOE will go through a public process to establish these standards, with many opportunities for manufacturers and the public to comment and provide important input on what level these efficiency standards should be set at and how they should work.   As our colleague Pierre Delforge has written, the State of California has already set energy efficiency standards for these products, with huge benefits for consumers and the environment. 

Battery chargers and external power supplies include chargers and adaptors used in range of products, from laptop and cell phone batteries, to power tools, to golf carts, to personal care products, and others. Over 800 million of these devices are sold in the US every year and they currently use energy very inefficiently -- On average, twice as much energy is dissipated as waste heat as is actually stored in the battery.  The technology exists today to reduce this waste cost-effectively, but is not currently being implemented in most chargers. Efficiency standards for battery chargers and external power supplies would reduce this energy waste and have the potential to save consumers $1 billion annually compared to the current market and to reduce annual electricity use by the equivalent of four medium-sized power plants once fully implemented.

However, Rep. Fortenberry (R. Neb.) offered an amendment that would prevent DOE from issuing new efficiency standards for one particular class of battery chargers and external power supplies, apparently with the goal of benefiting a manufacturer in his district.

 While the energy savings from efficiency standards just for this one particular group of battery chargers is not large, this rider sets a dangerous precedent.   Energy efficiency standards should be set based on the technology and economic factors outlined under federal law, which require DOE to establish the maximum energy efficiency standards that are technically feasible and cost justified.   Individual members of Congress should not attempt to amend the law to benefit constituents.


 Our members of Congress should be working to protect and promote these bipartisan energy efficiency standards that save consumers money, drive innovation and more consumer options, create jobs, and reduce energy use and pollution—not looking for wrong-headed ways to secure some short political gain.  We should support energy and water efficiency standards and allow DOE to its job in issuing and enforcing them.  We urge the Senate to reject these anti-energy efficiency riders, as well as other dangerous riders that the House approved. 

About the Authors

Kit Kennedy

Director, Energy & Transportation program

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