AHRI weighs in on DOE energy efficiency lawsuit

NGOs and U.S. states had taken legal action when DOE energy-efficiency standards failed to appear in the U.S. Federal Register.

The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) filed a motion on 18 July to intervene as a defendant in two identical federal lawsuits brought in the Northern District of California against the U.S. Department of Energy for not releasing DOE energy-efficiency standards in the Federal Register.

In 2016 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued six energy-efficiency standards – including those pertaining to walk-in refrigerators/freezers and portable air-conditioners – which are projected to save households and businesses up to $23 billion over 30 years. But the Trump administration has blocked them from taking effect – leading both NGOs and U.S. states to sue the Federal Government for the delays. 

The states and NGOs – including the NRDC, the Sierra Club, the Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy, and the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy organization – announced the lawsuit on 3 April 2017 for one of the standards relating to ceiling fans and have placed the DOE on notice for the others.

"AHRI's interest in this lawsuit lies in the defined breadth and scope of the Error Correction Rule, which was the result of our settlement with DOE in prior litigation," said AHRI President and CEO Stephen Yurek.

The Error Correction Rule was published in 2016 as the result of a settlement with a separate AHRI suit against the DOE pertaining to walk-in cooler and freezer standards. 

Our industry requires a seat at the table if and when discussions take place."
– Stephen Yurek, AHRI's President and CEO 

AHRI and its industry partners have advocated for a broader interpretation of what constitutes an "error" warranting reconsideration of the substance of a pre-published rule.

Yurek added: "Because this lawsuit will likely result in a determination of DOE's ability to modify or withdraw pre-published rules, our industry requires a seat at the table if and when discussions take place."

The plaintiffs – under the coalition of NGOs and states – argue that under the Error Correction Rule pre-published rules can only be changed to correct typographical errors or mathematical mistakes and must be published at the close of the 45-day review period, according to AHRI.

"Our motion will ensure we are a participant in all relevant discussions and that we retain the ability to advocate for greater flexibility and improved stakeholder engagement in DOE's rulemaking process," he said. 

The State Attorneys General and coalition assert that the DOE is violating both the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) and Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by: 

Saving money for consumers

The standards on freezers and fridges are estimated to save 90 billion kilowatt hours of electricity over 30 years of sales, equivalent to the annual electricity use of about seven million U.S. homes and 46 million metric tons of harmful CO2 emissions during the same period.

Energy-efficiency regulation has encouraged many U.S. manufacturers to switch from HFCs to hydrocarbon refrigerants in the commercial sector to meet DOE regulation – helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Billions of dollars of consumer savings are at risk due to the delays, which are illegal, unnecessary, and simply unacceptable.”
– Lauren Urbanek, NRDC

The new standards for portable air conditioners are estimated, if enforced, to save consumers an average of $125 over the lifetime of the air conditioner and cut energy use by more than 20% compared to the least-efficient products available today.

The new standards are supposed to take effect three years from now, but their entry into force remains uncertain.

“Billions of dollars of consumer savings are at risk due to the delays, which are illegal, unnecessary, and simply unacceptable,” according to Lauren Urbanek, senior energy policy advocate in the energy and transportation program at the NRDC.

By Charlotte McLaughlin

Jul 20, 2017, 10:03

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