DOE publishes four new efficiency standards, bowing to court order

(ACEEE blog, 10 Jan 2020) It took a lawsuit, but today the Department of Energy (DOE) published the first new national appliance efficiency standards since 2017.

The new standards, finalized under the Obama administration in December 2016 but withheld from official publication by the Trump administration, will cut energy waste for four product categories: portable air conditioners, commercial boilers, uninterruptible power supplies and industrial air compressors.  It’s an eclectic bunch of products, but the savings really add up.

DOE estimates that the new standards will save consumers and businesses about $8.4 billion and cut climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 100 million metric tons over a 30-year period.  That’s roughly equivalent to taking 21 million cars off the road for a year.

Depending on the product, manufacturers must comply either two, three or five years from today’s publication of the standards in the Federal Register. 

 “Will” means will

The Appeals Court decision (NRDC v. Perry), published in October, turned on the plain meaning of the words “will publish.” Under a DOE procedure known as the “Error Correction Rule,” DOE must make final rules establishing new or revised appliance standards available for review and allow for a 45-day period during which anyone can point out errors. Errors are limited to “an aspect of the regulatory text of a rule that is inconsistent with what the Secretary intended regarding the rule at the time of posting.“ Examples include typographical, calculation or numbering mistakes.  If no errors are identified by the public or DOE, then, under the rule, the agency “will publish” the new standards in the Federal Register. 

In the case of these four rules, one comment identified a single non-substantive error, yet DOE refused to publish the rules anyway. Demonstrating its zeal to avoid regulation regardless of its own rules, the law or the benefits for consumers and the environment, the administration argued that the words “will publish” really meant “may or may not publish.”

Multiple entities challenged DOE’s failure to follow its own rules. Natural Resources Defense Council, and Earthjustice (representing Sierra Club, Consumer Federation of American and Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy), and the Attorneys General of 12 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington) joined by New York City, the District of Columbia and California Energy Commission sued.

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ACEEE blog, 10 Jan 2020: DOE publishes four new efficiency standards, bowing to court order