DOE Shift on Air Conditioners: Cold Comfort to Consumers and the Environment

NEW YORK, NY (May 23, 2002) -- Today's effort by the Department of Energy (DOE) to weaken energy efficiency standards for air conditioners is yet another example of the Administration's attacks on the environment and its support for dirty energy sources over energy efficiency, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). This latest rollback not only hurts the consumer and the environment, it also harms businesses that depend on a reliable electricity supply. And in this case, NRDC maintains, DOE's rollback violated the law.

DOE's action today is an attempt to overturn an energy efficiency standard, known as the "SEER 13" standard, issued by the Clinton administration DOE in January 2001, which required a 30% increase in efficiency. Over 15,000 organizations and members of the public, including President Bush's own Environmental Protection Agency, urged Secretary Abraham not to reduce the efficiency standards in this rule. Yet a rule published in the Federal Register today, attempts to set a lower energy efficiency standard of SEER 12, which means one-third of the savings from the higher standard will be lost.

"At a time when States like California and New York are both experiencing electricity shortages and struggling to meet clean air standards, the Bush Administration's decision to roll back air conditioner energy efficiency standards is arrogant and hypocritical," said David Goldstein, Ph.D., Co-Director of NRDC's Energy Program. "The Administration's energy plan emphasizes the importance of avoiding blackouts and reducing the costs of energy. Vice President Cheney has said 'we're going to encourage [energy efficiency] in every way possible'. But this rule takes America in the opposite direction -- toward energy insecurity and higher utility bills.

If DOE succeeds in rolling back the SEER 13 standard, electric blackouts and brownouts during summer months will be more likely and electricity markets will be more vulnerable to Enron-style manipulation, Goldstein predicted. "Big energy companies will also be the only winners when America has to build 48 unnecessary power plants by 2020."

"DOE claims that the rollback will 'protect' consumers, low-income residents and states with colder climates," added Goldstein. "But consumer and low-income groups such as the Consumer Federation of America and Northern states such as Vermont and Maine recognize that the stronger standard is better for them. They have actually joined NRDC in suing DOE to challenge this rollback. It looks like DOE is really trying to protect backward-thinking air conditioners manufacturers who don't want to compete and innovate with new, more efficient products."

Goldstein noted that not all manufacturers support the DOE rollback. Goodman Manufacturing, the nation's second largest air conditioning manufacturer and the maker of Amana®, GmC®, Goodman® and Janitrol® air conditioners, along with small manufacturers Goettle and Addison, support the SEER 13 standard.

NRDC has brought a legal challenge against the DOE rollback with the States of New York, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont, as well as Consumer Federation of America, a national consumer group, and the Public Utility Law Project, a New York- based low-income energy group. The legal challenge is pending in the federal United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

"NRDC will continue to fight this illegal and illogical rollback in the courts," said NRDC Senior Attorney Katherine Kennedy. "By moving from SEER 13 to SEER 12, DOE is violating federal energy law, which specifically prohibits DOE from weakening energy efficiency standards."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.