Fate of Five Final Energy Efficiency Rules Could Be Up to Trump

By Rebecca Kern

Five final energy efficiency appliance standards issued by the Obama administration Dec. 28 could be undone by the Trump administration due to a new review period.

The Energy Department issued final rules increasing energy efficiency requirements for walk-in coolers, portable air conditioners, commercial boilers and uninterruptible power supplies. Each has a 45-day review period—until Feb. 11, 2017—before it can be published in the Federal Register.

The department also issued a direct final rule upping efficiency for swimming pool pumps, which has a 110-day comment period once it is published in the Federal Register. The rule is likely to appear some time in the next two weeks. These are the final energy efficiency rules the administration plans to issue this year, Joshunda Sanders, a DOE spokeswoman, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 29.

Trump takes office Jan. 20, and the 45-day review deadline—part of a new rule the agency put in place this year—means all five of the rules will be under the authority of the Energy Department of his administration.

The DOE has finalized nearly 50 new or updated appliance standards since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. They are projected to save consumers a total of $550 billion on energy bills between 2009 and 2030. Efficiency standards have been a cornerstone of the administration’s Climate Action Plan goal of reducing carbon emissions by 3 billion metric tons by 2030.

Energy efficiency standards set minimum efficiency requirements to reduce the amount of energy that appliances and equipment use, which leads to reductions of carbon emissions as well as savings for consumers who end up using less electricity to operate the products. The department is required by law to review energy standards for more than 60 regulated products every six years.

‘Uncharted Waters’

The fact that these efficiency rules are under the Trump administration’s purview is a concern for Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which advocates for stronger energy efficiency standards.

“This is really uncharted waters. I don’t think there’s ever been a situation where one administration has issued a rule, but yet not published it in the Federal Register,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

The new 45-day review period prior to publication was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute against the agency over a previous version of the walk-in cooler standard. As part of the settlement, the DOE agreed to issue a rule that creates a 45-day review period in which the public can notify the agency of typographical or calculation errors in an energy efficiency rulemaking before it publishes it in final form in the Federal Register. The agency published this error correction rule in August, and it went into effect in September.

However, if the Trump administration’s Energy Department doesn’t act on publishing these final rules it could face litigation, deLaski noted.

In 2006, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the DOE as part of a coalition of 15 states, New York City, and two low-income consumer groups because the agency missed legal deadlines for updating 22 standards, and the coalition was seeking to compel the DOE to clear the backlog. The department settled and agreed to a binding schedule for setting standards for 20 products by 2011, Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate at NRDC, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 29.

Urbanek said the agency would consider another lawsuit against the agency if it doesn’t follow statutory deadlines for publishing these energy standards.

“DOE’s following the rules that Congress has set, so this is all within DOE’s clear authority, they have billions of dollars of benefits for consumers, and it will certainly be something we fight to uphold,” she said.

Large Consumer, Energy Savings

The five final rules would save consumers and businesses between $15 billion and $35 billion over the 30-year lifetime of the products, according to the Energy Department.

Of the five rules, the direct final rule for establishing the first-ever efficiency standards for pool pumps will lead to a greater savings—projected to range from $11 billion to $24 billion over 30 years. Urbanek said the standards will lead to 70 percent reduction in energy savings and could save the average owner of an in-ground pool more than $2,000 over the 4- to 7-year lifetime of the pump.

However, not all groups were satisfied with the latest efficiency standards. The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute said it wasn’t supportive of the ultimate commercial boiler standard, saying it was based on flawed analyses, Francis Dietz, AHRI spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 29. He said his group is concerned that the DOE has pushed the energy efficiency levels so high that the margin of safety to properly vent the products has been reduced significantly, which may compromise the safety of future installations.

DeLaski, on the other hand, said he didn’t think the Energy Department was aggressive enough on its commercial boiler standard and its portable air conditioner standard.

Long Bipartisan History

The Energy Department’s Appliance and Equipment Standards Program covers approximately 66 products, representing about 90 percent of home energy use, 60 percent of commercial building energy use and 30 percent of industrial energy use.

Efficiency standards have had bipartisan support. Appliance efficiency standards were first signed into law in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 under President Gerald Ford, and then the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987 under President Ronald Reagan.

Under those laws, the Energy Department is required to review and decide whether to issue a proposed energy efficiency standard every six years, with a final rule due every eight years. The laws have since been updated under President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and President George W. Bush in 2005 and 2007 to apply efficiency standards to more products.

So based on past Republican support, a new Republican-controlled White House and Congress could lead to some continued support for energy efficiency standards. Rick Perry, whom Trump has tapped to be energy secretary, has supported water energy conservation standards in the past under a package he signed into law in 2009 as governor or Texas, deLaski said.

Urbanek said she hopes the Trump administration would continue the standards work because besides saving money, they create good-paying jobs.

“We think that these standards are common sense because they are so good to consumers and so good for the environment and the economy too. They create jobs that support American manufacturers who are already being innovative. So we think that this is a win-win for everybody involved,” she said.

Advocating For Changes to Statute

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, which each represent appliance manufacturers, are both pushing for Congress to introduce legislation next year that would change the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975.

The associations are calling for changes including giving the agency flexibility to put a product into a category which has a less restrictive standard.They also advocate requiring DOE to consider the cumulative impact of regulations, transparency around the government models on which standards are based, and mandatory public input prior to proposals being issued.

Standards in Jeopardy

There are provisions in the existing statutes that allow the Energy Department to make standards for products not specifically stipulated in the the law, but that can be issued on a discretionary basis.

Two such first-time energy efficiency standards issued by the Energy Department during the Obama administration are for portable air conditioners, which was just finalized, and commercial fans and blowers, which is still in the early rulemaking process.

Since these two standards won’t be finalized under the Obama administration, the Trump administration may not have an incentive to pursue them since they are discretionary and not required under the statute, deLaski said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rKern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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