NRDC Defends Against Attacks on Hard-Won Efficiency Standard

Acting quickly to defend energy efficiency standards finally implemented by federal officials, NRDC moved to intervene today in a lawsuit filed in March by four industry groups seeking to undo the improved regulations for commercial packaged boilers. The energy savings threatened by the lawsuit are significant because boilers heat a quarter of the nation’s commercial space, including schools and multi-family dwellings.

The action by NRDC was precipitated by an attempt by the groups to challenge the validity of the new standard, published in January.

It had taken three years and two major court rulings for a recalcitrant Trump Department of Energy (DOE) to finally publish the energy efficiency standards it had delayed by every means possible. Along with packaged boilers, the other standards published after the court rulings cover portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies (the battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out), and air compressors used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications.

It didn’t take long for industry lawyers to lob their first shot at the new rules. The American Public Gas Association, The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), Spire Inc., and Spire Missouri Inc. in early March filed petitions for review with in several appeals courts challenging the validity of the efficiency standard for commercial packaged boilers. 

As filed, the petitions give no reason for the challenges. But a spokesperson for AHRI contended in an industry newsletter that there was no clear and convincing proof that energy savings from the rule would outweigh its costs to manufacturers and consumers. 

That argument flies in the face of evidence collected painstakingly by the DOE. Published in the January notice in the Federal Register, the DOE analysis found the amended standards “technologically feasible and economically justified.”

Over a 30-year period, the DOE estimates cumulative carbon emissions reductions of 1.58 million metric tons from implementation of the new standards on commercial packaged boilers. That is equivalent to emissions resulting from the annual electricity use of 233 million homes. Furthermore, DOE calculations show a net benefit to consumers of $85 million per year—after accounting for any increased equipment costs.

DOE

The standards were completed during the Obama administration, but the final step—sending them to the Federal Register for publication—was due to occur after the Trump administration took office. When DOE failed to finalize the standards in March 2017 as required by law, NRDC and a coalition of advocacy groups took the agency to court, and won. DOE appealed the ruling, contending it had no obligation to publish the standards. In a unanimous October 2019 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco upheld the lower court's ruling. In ordering the DOE to implement the energy efficiency standards, the court wrote that the agency had “a non-discretionary duty to publish the standards in the Federal Register, and its refusal to do so violated” the Department’s rules.  The standards finally were published in January—almost three years later than when they should have been finalized.

The Trump administration attempts at delay was another stunning rebuke of a generation of energy-saving efforts by both Republican and Democratic leaders. Ever since Ronald Reagan signed important amendments to the energy efficiency standards program in 1987, the DOE has regularly created and updated efficiency standards for appliances and equipment found in every home and business, following a schedule set by Congress. The standards have quietly saved Americans billions of dollars on energy bills and are projected to save $2 trillion by 2030.

However, the Trump DOE has made little progress on efficiency standards in the past three years. The DOE has missed legal deadlines for review of at least 21 product standards and 19 test procedures. Meanwhile, the agency rolled back two light bulb  standards that would have saved consumers $14 billion on their utility bills and businesses and avoided 38 million tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions every year. In addition, the agency finalized changes to its energy efficiency standards process that will slow down—if not halt altogether—future efforts to make America’s appliances and equipment more efficient. 

NRDC will do everything in its power to ensure that this latest unabashed attempt to undo standards does not succeed. We will continue to defend common-sense laws that ensure businesses and residents benefit from common-sense energy savings.

About the Authors

Lauren Urbanek

Senior Energy Policy Advocate, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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