WASHINGTON, D.C.— A federal court has ruled the Trump administration acted unlawfully in rolling back an energy efficiency rule in favor of one manufacturer of central air conditioners, Johnson Controls International (JCI), to the detriment of consumers, the environment, and other manufacturers. In a case filed by Democracy Forward on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York declared the rollback “arbitrary and capricious.”
The court, in its ruling issued late Friday, also admonished the Department of Energy for relying on the sole request of JCI to halt a rule that would prevent JCI and other manufacturers from selling energy-inefficient home air conditioning units without satisfying DOE’s efficiency-testing requirements.
“The Trump administration has relentlessly pursued energy efficiency and environmental rollbacks since day one,” said Lissa Lynch, an attorney with NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy Program. “The court sent a strong signal by refusing to allow the Trump administration’s ideological agenda to carry the day when the Department of Energy’s actions so clearly violated the law.”
“This is a victory not only for consumers and the environment, but for the basic rule of law,” said Jeffrey Dubner, Democracy Forward Senior Counsel, added. “The Trump administration has once again been caught bending the rules for corporate interests and been held to account.”
NRDC’s lawsuit argued that the Administrative Procedure Act provision relied on by DOE as grounds to issue the stay does not allow an agency to suspend a rule that’s already in effect, as DOE did. Moreover, DOE failed to give a sufficient explanation justifying the stay, as it is required to do.
The ruling said the agency’s unlawful actions were designed to singularly benefit Wisconsin-based JCI at the expense of American consumers. As the court noted, there was widespread industry opposition to delaying the rule any further. The industry trade group Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) explicitly told DOE it “was not seeking to delay or rescind the [Rule].”
Furthermore, the court noted that the administration was determined to act in JCI’s favor “through any means available.” Two days before the court was scheduled to hear arguments in this case, DOE attempted to moot the litigation by withdrawing the delay rule and instead granting JCI a waiver exemption to the energy-saving rule. The administration’s effort led the court to find that “it is reasonable to expect that DOE may reissue a delay of the [Rule] at any time it feels that JCI’s exemption is threatened.” The court also found that the administration’s actions late in the matter “suggest an intent to thwart the Court’s jurisdiction.”
The DOE spent nearly a decade refining energy efficiency standards for central air conditioners through negotiation with industry, environmental advocates, and consumer representatives. One piece of that effort, the closing of a loophole that allowed certain replacement air conditioners to avoid meeting the efficiency standards, was finalized on January 5, 2017, at the end of the Obama administration and was supported by NRDC, AHRI, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. Closing the loophole would have resulted in lower utility bills for consumers and decreased pollution from power plants.
Beginning on February 5, 2017, the Trump administration’s DOE delayed the loophole-closing rule three separate times, culminating in an open-ended suspension in July 2017. The court rejected DOE’s arguments that courts were powerless to review DOE’s actions and found that the indefinite suspension was unlawful.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.