Three State Attorneys General, NRDC, Consumer, and Low-Income Groups Sue U.S. Department of Energy Over Final Rule On Air Conditioners

Groups Claim Bush Administration's Attempt to Delay, Weaken Energy Efficiency Standard is Illegal

NEW YORK - (June 19, 2001) The state attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, and California today joined the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Consumer Federation of America; and the Public Utility Law Project (PULP) in filing suit against Spencer Abraham, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in a legal challenge to the energy department's delays and its attempt to block and weaken an energy efficiency rule for air conditioners made final during the Clinton Administration.

"This is a time when the federal government should be doing everything possible to encourage the efficient use of energy," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. "Instead, the Bush administration has dramatically weakened one of the most effective ways to conserve energy. With this lawsuit, we are seeking to compel the administration to adopt a more forward-looking course that will help lower energy bills and reduce air pollution."

"California is among the leading states when it comes to energy conservation and Californians are working even harder to reach new conservation goals in the midst of the power crisis," California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said. "By ignoring and trying to eliminate the toughened efficiency standards for air conditioners, the Bush administration is unnecessarily making it harder for Californians."

In separate lawsuits that the plaintiffs expect will later be consolidated, the Attorney Generals and public interest groups charge that DOE has illegally attempted to delay and weaken a final rule that set the federally allowed minimum energy efficiency standard for residential air conditioners and heat pumps at a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 13, which is a 30 percent increase in energy efficiency from the previous federal standard of 10. The suits were filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. The plaintiffs ask the court to invalidate DOE's attempts to delay the final rule and to prevent DOE from attempting to weaken it.

"The Bush Administration's attempt to roll back the SEER 13 air conditioner standard will hurt air quality, public health and consumers' pocketbooks," said Ashok Gupta, Director of NRDC's Air and Energy Program. "Bush's proposal to weaken these important standards would increase peak electric demand on hot summer days when electricity is scarcest and air pollution the worst. It makes no sense."

The Bush Administration is seeking to weaken the air conditioner standard from 13 SEER to 12 SEER. NRDC calculates that by rolling back the air conditioner efficiency standards from 13 SEER to 12 SEER, peak electric demand in the United States would increase by 18,000 MW by 2030. That is an increase that would require the construction of 60 average-sized (300 MW) power plants. Total annual electricity consumption by U.S. households would increase by 11 billion kilowatt hours by 2020, equivalent to the total annual power used by 1.1 million households. Cumulatively, over the period from 2006 to 2030, U.S. consumers would pay a total of $18.4 billion more to run air conditioners. Finally, the nation would emit another 45 million metric tons of carbon (the equivalent of carbon emissions from 30 million cars for one year).

Mel Hall-Crawford, Special Projects Manager for the Consumer Federation of America said, "Delaying and weakening the air conditioner rule will hurt America's consumers. An efficient air conditioner cools a house as well as a less efficient one, while using less electricity and thus it saves consumers money. It also causes less pollution which helps the air we all breathe."

Charles Brennan, Staff Attorney for the Public Utility Law Project, added, "A low income consumer's energy burden is 2 to 4 times greater than the national average energy burden. More efficient air conditioners benefit low-income consumers by providing necessary cooling while using less electricity and thus reducing that energy burden. Everybody loses when we weaken air conditioning standards."

"Secretary Abraham's plan to weaken the air conditioner efficiency standard is in blatant violation of federal law," said NRDC Senior Attorney Katherine Kennedy. "Under federal energy law, DOE can't change an energy efficiency standard to make it weaker," added Kennedy. "So DOE is trying to act as if the Clinton Administration's final rule was just a proposal and make it go away. But we won't let them."

Despite the Bush Administration's claim that it is only reviewing rules and regulations made final during the very last days of the Clinton Administration, the Air Conditioner and Heat Pump Conservation Rule was actually in development over a seven-year period. The final rule was published in the Federal Register on January 22, 2001 and was to take effect on February 21, 2001, but the Department of Energy has twice delayed and suspended this effective date without providing for public notice or comment, according to the plaintiffs' complaint filed today. On April 20, 2001, DOE also announced its intention to "revise" the Rule's energy efficiency standards by proposing a weaker energy efficiency standard of SEER 12.

The day after President Bush's inauguration, Andrew Card, his chief of staff, issued a memorandum, published in the Federal Register, directing heads of agencies to temporarily postpone the effective date of regulations that have been published in the Federal Register, but not yet taken effect, for 60 days. Yet as the plaintiffs' Complaint points out, the Card memo specifically excluded "any regulations promulgated pursuant to statutory or judicial deadlines." Under the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987, DOE was required to issue the Air Conditioner and Heat Pump Conservation Rule by a 1994 deadline. The existing standard, established in 1987, is SEER 10.

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.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is a national non-profit association of over 280 pro-consumer groups founded in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through advocacy and education. Based in Washington, CFA's members include consumer advocacy and education groups at the national, state, or local levels, and include credit unions, rural electrics, housing co-ops and other member-owned service organizations.

The Public Utility Law Project (PULP), based in Albany, New York, is a non-profit organization that provides legal representation and technical assistance to low income utility and energy consumers and to non-profit agencies and organizations whose objectives include services to or advocacy on behalf poor consumers.