By Lauren Urbanek, Natural Resources Defense Council
What does it take to get the Trump administration to support the fastest, cheapest way to cut energy use? Two court rulings!
Four long-delayed energy efficiency standards are finally ensconced in law thanks to a 2018 district court decision and a recent unanimous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco that ordered the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to implement them. The standards were published today in the Federal Register, the final necessary step—almost three years later than when they should have been finalized.
The delayed standards will save consumers $8.4 billion in utility bill costs while avoiding nearly 100 million tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years, equivalent to the emissions from powering 10.6 million homes annually. They cover portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies (the battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out), air compressors used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, and packaged boilers that heat one-fourth of the nation’s commercial space.
These standards were completed through a stakeholder process during the Obama administration, but the final step—sending them to the Federal Register for publication—was due to happen during the first months of the Trump administration. When DOE failed to finalize these standards in March 2017 as required by law, NRDC, as well as 12 states and a coalition of advocacy groups, took the agency to court. NRDC won an initial ruling from the district court, which DOE then appealed, claiming it had no obligation to publish the standards. The federal appeals court decision in October 2019 upheld the lower court’s ruling and confirmed DOE had “a non-discretionary duty to publish the standards in the Federal Register, and its refusal to do so violated the rule.” From families to businesses to energy efficiency workers, everyone benefits from efficiency standards like these, which not only save money and energy but create jobs and cut air pollution.
Delaying these commonsense energy efficiency standards is not the only way the Trump administration has tried to stall or roll back progress. Instead of continuing the $2 trillion success story of energy efficiency standards that began with the establishment of a national program under President Ronald Reagan in 1987, the program has made little progress in the past three years. The DOE has missed legal deadlines for review of at least 19 product standards and 18 test procedures.
DOE is also moving in entirely the wrong direction, by first issuing a rule to allow the continued sales of highly wasteful incandescent and halogen bulbs and then abandoning standards that would have required the everyday pear-shaped bulbs found in most of the remainder of America’s sockets to become more efficient as of January 1, 2020. In addition, we expect DOE to finalize changes to the process it uses to set standards that would be highly detrimental to ensuring that future standards are strong and are updated on a regular basis.
While the road ahead for efficiency standards is anything but smooth, today’s publication of these overdue standards is an important victory. A small but important segment of products sold in the United States will at last meet the performance standards they were poised to meet nearly three years ago. It’s a heartening development in a period filled with strong advocacy for energy efficiency in the face of an administration senselessly devoted to moving backwards.