Time to Throw in the Regional Standards Towel

June 10, 2013

I like to think I am a fighter (metaphorically, of course) and I have a healthy respect for others who have that same trait. I also like a good underdog story. It does not matter if it is Rocky Balboa or the Detroit Lions; I tend to pull for the little guy. And if you get that little guy fighting the government, well I am as excited as Lindsay Lohan at an open bar. However, eventually Dr. Drew needs to step in and put an end to the madness.

This is why it somewhat pains me to say that for the good of the HVAC industry it is time to throw in the towel on the regional standards fight. The NEWS first reported on this story in January of 2008 as the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) worked with the government to help shape the regional standards language. It might be hard to remember now, but, at the time, AHRI changed its original course which was to fight the standards because they realized, if they did not give input to the process, the results would be much worse. A first draft at the time had 16 different regions in California alone.

In my view, during this process, AHRI mistakenly left the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) out of the loop. I am guessing that it is a choice they would not make again, but at this point it is water under the bridge. I have witnessed that the industry has learned from this process and while different groups will not always agree, they are communicating better than they did in 2008.

However, what has ensued in the last year and a half is a lawsuit that has more briefs than a Hanes commercial. While this has been fought, every chain in the HVAC channel — manufacturers, contractors, and distributors — have been hurt by the uncertainty. The biggest of which is a significant portion of Northern contractors who were selling and marketing 80 percent gas furnaces by telling customers that on May 1 they would need to pay more for a higher-efficiency product. In a business where reputation and your word is everything, what some of those contractors said was not true — through no fault of their own. Customers do not understand the minutia of detail in this issue, all they know is they can get the same furnace today as they did in April — contrary to what their contractor told them.

We need to put this issue to bed before more damage is done to the reputation of our industry. A great percentage of the industry — including AHRI, ACCA, and the American Public Gas Association (APGA) — has come to an agreement, which has been presented to the court. It is a fair deal which sends the furnace aspect of the rule back to the drawing board while keeping the Jan. 1, 2015 deadline for the air conditioners. These three associations want to wrap up the case as soon as possible so they can start planning for the next deadline.

HARDI does not feel the deal goes far enough and would prefer to step in as a plaintiff and challenge the entirety of the standard, not just the furnace portion. I don’t really blame them. Their members are telling them to continue the fight, and they are not paying the legal costs. Cause of Action, a nonpartisan organization that uses public advocacy and legal reform tools to ensure greater transparency in government, has taken up the court case and costs for them.

And, to be honest, they have a leg to stand on with this issue. It is obvious that the DOE did not follow proper procedures or they would not be willing to make a deal.

But as my grandpa taught me many years ago, sometimes being right is not enough. It is time for the industry to move forward so the planning for the air conditioning standards can commence, as well as the development of the furnace standards.

The industry’s reputation is at stake. Obviously these standards are not going to remain in place forever. The next time the government wants to increase them how likely do you think they will be to listen to the HVAC industry’s views when they still remember that the last time they worked with the industry there was courtroom brawling that lasted for years?

Publication date: 6/10/2013 

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