SACRAMENTO, Calif., and NEW YORK - Two separate court cases challenging the federal government's new 12 SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) rule for air conditioners are being heard in U.S. federal courts.

The U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals in California is scheduled to hear a case on whether the state can mandate an energy efficiency level that differs from the federal SEER requirement. At the same time, in New York, a U.S. District court is hearing a suit against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asserting that the DOE did not follow federal procedures when it reduced the SEER requirement from 13 to 12.

Currently, federal regulations require air conditioning units under 5 tons to be 10 SEER. The federal government, during the Clinton administration, established a requirement that air conditioning units manufactured on or after Jan. 23, 2006 must have a SEER rating of 13. The Bush administration set aside that rule and established a new requirement of 12 SEER.

In 2001, the California Energy Commission sought to increase state air conditioning SEER levels to 13 from 10, citing the state's energy crisis. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, seated in Sacramento, ruled against the commission on June 11. The court said the commission cannot set its own standards without approval from the DOE. The commission is now appealing.

The DOE is being sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the grounds that DOE does not have the authority to weaken the energy efficiency standard and also that it did not follow proper legal procedures in this action. NRDC filed its suit with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Publication date: 10/20/2003