NRDC Sues Over Department of Energy’s New Rule Hampering Energy-Saving Standards

SAN FRANCISCO – The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today over its new energy efficiency standards-setting process that will impede future efforts to make America’s appliances and equipment more efficient, significantly harming consumers and the environment.

The Trump administration DOE’s illegal changes to its “Process Rule” represent yet another attack on the nation’s highly successful energy efficiency standards program that has been saving U.S. households, on average, $500 every year and will deliver $2 trillion in savings to consumers and businesses by 2030. 

“It’s outrageous that the Department of Energy is hiding behind process to take a sledgehammer to America’s most successful energy-saving program,” said Joe Vukovich, attorney and clean energy advocate for NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy program. “Household and business budgets will feel the harsh blow, as will the environment, because of this DOE’s relentless efforts to undermine the energy efficiency standards program and benefit industry.”

The DOE’s own calculations show existing common-sense energy-saving standards for appliances and equipment like refrigerators, water heaters, and air conditioners will help avoid a total of 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution by 2030, equivalent to the annual emissions from 631 million cars. Increased efficiency can reduce the amount of power generated from fossil fuels – and the associated pollution.

“The Department of Energy wants everyone to think these are merely wonky procedural changes, but they will have enormous long-term effects on consumer budgets and the environment. And they’re illegal,” Vukovich added.

Ignoring feedback from NRDC, other efficiency advocates, numerous states, and more than 47,000 public comments submitted in opposition to weakening standards, the DOE  finalized the harmful changes in January. While the DOE claimed it “heard the American people’s concerns,” the contents of the rule show regard for the concerns of only a select number of manufacturers, not the U.S. consumers and businesses that benefit from strong standards.  

The suit filed today in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will argue that the new Process Rule sets an arbitrary baseline for “significant savings” to establish a new standard. About 40 percent of the standards on the books could not meet it, which means consumers and businesses would have paid several billion dollars more on their utility bills. NRDC sued the last time the DOE tried to set specific numeric thresholds for the amount of energy savings that constitute “significant conservation of energy” required under the law establishing the standards program—and the court agreed with us in NRDC v. Herrington.  

The DOE’s new rule also adds unnecessary steps to an already-complex standards development process that will further extend the time to set new standards and the savings they deliver, and establishes a new testing protocol slanted in favor of industry, similar to letting students write their own exams.

Joining NRDC in the lawsuit are Earthjustice (representing the Sierra Club, Consumer Federation of America, and Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants); the U.S. Public Interest Research Group; and Environment America. In addition, a group of 13 states—California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington—plus the city of New York and the District of Columbia, filed a similar lawsuit in the same court.

This is the 107th lawsuit that NRDC has filed against Trump administration rollbacks and efforts to undermine environmental safeguards. Of the 65 cases resolved thus far, NRDC has prevailed in 60 of them. Today’s lawsuit also marks the third time in five months that NRDC and other environmental and consumer groups have sued DOE over energy efficiency standards.

In February, NRDC and others sued over DOE’s “final determination” not to go forward with improved efficiency standards on Jan. 1, 2020, for the light bulbs that fill roughly 6 billion U.S. sockets. The groups in November opposed DOE’s illegal reversal of a rule expanding the types of bulbs required to become more efficient, including three-way, candle-shaped, globe-shaped, and reflector bulbs (found in recessed cans and track lighting) that together fill almost half of the household sockets in the United States.  

Meanwhile, the Trump administration DOE has repeatedly failed to meet its statutory requirements to update standards for appliances and equipment—having now missed 21 deadlines, as well as 19 deadlines for efficiency test methods for measuring a product’s energy efficiency. And it took two court rulings for DOE to finalize four efficiency standards it was blocking from reaching the final step of publication in the Federal Register.

For additional information on the Process Rule changes, see this background blog by NRDC senior energy policy advocate Lauren Urbanek.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 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, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at


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