Judge: Trump’s Delay on Energy Efficiency Standards Illegal

Note: On April 11, 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay pending appeal by the Department of Energy. We'll continue to keep you updated as this case progresses.

A federal judge ruled today that the Trump administration illegally delayed four energy efficiency standards that will save America’s consumers and businesses more than $8 billion in energy costs, finding that delaying the standards was “a violation of the Department’s duties” under federal law.   

In a victory for NRDC, its allies in the lawsuit, and anyone who values energy efficiency, the judge for the Northern District of California found the Trump administration violated the law when it failed to publish standards that were completed during the Obama administration but overdue to be published in the Federal Register by the Trump administration.

The court today ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) to publish within 28 days the standards for the four products in question: portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies (the battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out), air compressors (used in a wide range of equipment like industrial paint sprayers and the air machines that pump your tires at the gas station) and packaged boilers (which heat one-fourth of the nation’s commercial space). These standards had been delayed for more than a year.

Thanks to today’s commonsense decision, U.S. consumers will save $8.4 billion on their utility bills and the energy-saving standards will avoid 99 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years—equal to powering 10.6 million U.S. homes annually.

Commercial packaged boilers


Why standards matter

Ever since President Ronald Reagan signed the program into law, the DOE has regularly created and updated energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, following to a schedule set by Congress. The standards, which address the energy use of appliances and equipment found in every home and business, ranging from laptop chargers to rooftop air conditioners, have quietly saved Americans billions of dollars on energy bills over the past few decades and are expected to save $2 trillion by 2030.

Yet last year, the Trump DOE missed its deadline to publish several of these standards. The delay addressed in today’s ruling was all the more baffling because these standards had already been thoroughly vetted. Federal energy efficiency standards are required by law to be cost-effective and technically sound. Each standard goes through a years-long, transparent, highly technical process involving input from manufacturers, utilities, top research scientists, energy efficiency advocates, and the public before it’s finalized. The standards in the lawsuit had cleared every hurdle in the process but one—official publication in the Federal Register, which is the procedural equivalent of hitting the “submit” button. Inexplicably, the Trump DOE failed to do so, for months. 

Portable Air Conditioner

When the DOE failed to respond to our letter demanding the delayed standards be published, NRDC and Earthjustice (representing the Sierra Club, the Consumer Federation of America, and Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy) sued. In a separate lawsuit, Attorneys General from 11 states, as well as the City of New York, also challenged the delay. The original lawsuits also included a fifth delayed efficiency standard, for walk-in coolers and freezers, typically used in restaurants and grocery stores, but it was subsequently published.

Today’s ruling will get the four delayed standards out the door and ensure that improved, energy-saving products will soon be on the market. But as of January 2018, the DOE has missed deadlines for eight additional standards, and has moved 20 others to the back burner by signaling that they don’t intend to work on them in the next year. This uncertainty leaves billions of dollars in consumer savings and millions of tons of climate pollution on the table. It’s also making business difficult for manufacturers, who say that holding up a standard “really throws the planning curve out of whack.”

Even if the Trump administration is blind to the difficulties it is creating for consumers and manufacturers, it still cannot flout the law of the land. The judge’s ruling should push the DOE to do its job and keep energy efficiency standards rolling, trimming energy bills and carbon pollution, and providing certainty for American manufacturers, for decades to come. 

About the Authors

Lauren Urbanek

Deputy Director, Clean Buildings, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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