Opinions


Kicking Them When They Are Down

January 28, 2013
There are two main aspects of complaining about the government — it is easy to do and it feels good.

Sometimes I feel there is a degree of piling on that is not fair. Between late-night comedians, cable news talking heads, and your crazy uncle Norm, you can’t get through a day without hearing a complaint about our leaders. Then there are other times when you think all that complaining is not nearly enough.

The regional standards issue is one of those cases.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last year, everyone in the HVAC world should know about the regional standards debacle. The basics are: In 2008, Congress and President George W. Bush gave the Department of Energy (DOE) the authority to establish regional standards for residential furnaces and central air conditioning equipment. In late 2011, the DOE adopted its regional energy-efficiency standards plan, which included increasing minimum efficiency standards of air conditioners to 14 SEER in the south and west, and upping minimum efficiency performance of furnaces in the north to 90-percent AFUE. In early 2012, the American Public Gas Association (APGA) filed a lawsuit to challenge the standards based on what they believed was an incorrect process completed by the DOE. ACCA and HARDI joined that lawsuit as interveners, on behalf of APGA. Just recently the DOE agreed to a settlement that would send everyone back to the drawing board on the furnace issue — which was supposed to take effect on May 1 — while not changing the air conditioner portion of the standards, which are scheduled for later enactment. Everyone now waits to see if the court accepts the agreement.

Breaking it Down

I don’t want to get into the minutia of legal talk here because I am no Judge Wapner or even Doug Llewelyn for that matter. But it does not take a law-school graduate to realize that the DOE knew it was wrong. Nobody involved will say that, but since when does the government back down and compromise if they know or even think they are in the right? So, it begs the question, how can a major government agency not have its ducks in a row? This is especially true when the decision is going to affect a lot of small business owners — the backbone of our economy.

And take the legal aspect out of this. Does it not make sense to at least hear from the parties that would be affected before you make your decision? At best, you might see a side of the issue that had not occurred to you yet. At worst, the individuals brought in at least feel that they had a chance to be heard. I mean, I do that with my kids all the time. Sure they get to explain themselves, but the decision has already been made in my mind.

Now some might say this is unfair and I am just kicking the government when they are down. To that I reply, it’s much easier to kick someone when they are down. I mean they are so much closer to your foot.

But seriously, the fact is the government was on the right side of this issue. In some fashion, regional standards make a lot of sense. The efficiency of an air conditioner in Arizona is a lot more important than the one in Wisconsin. Furnace standards have not changed in over 20 years, which I believe makes them well overdue. At the end of the day, higher-efficiency products are good for our industry and good for the consumer.

But, like with most items, the government took a good idea and made it worse. They did not think the entire issue through in regards to enforcement and installation issues. They created a situation in which there was talk of contractors needing to take a picture with their phones and sending them off to some government agency before they could replace grandma’s furnace for less than $10,000 because of the additional construction costs.

How hard would it have been to get everyone at the table? Now, to be fair, this was not our industry’s finest hour either. We really did not work well as a collective group, which I understand can be hard when everyone rightly boasts different interests. However, in the last year I have noticed a more concerted effort by the industry to change that and I applaud all who are making the effort.

Some may say no harm, no foul since the problem was averted — or at least pushed down the road. However, there are a bunch of good contractors out there with egg on their faces because they have been trying to sell their customers new furnaces by warning them that if they wait they are going to have to purchase more expensive models.

Here is hoping round two of regional standards is a success and does not end up like the People’s Court with Ed Koch. Now that was tragic.

Publication date: 1/28/2013 

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