A court settlement involving a lawsuit filed last year by environmental groups, 15 states, and the city of New York because of delays in improving federal appliance efficiency requirements was recently settled, paving the way for new standards to be phased in over the next five years.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has agreed to boost energy-efficiency requirements for nearly two dozen household appliances and equipment from dishwashers to fluorescent lamps as part of a court settlement after years of inaction. The standards will also cover heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters, boilers and motors, dishwashers, clothes dryers, and fluorescent lighting.

Under the agreement, the DOE must set standards at the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective level possible and cannot weaken established standards.

The department came under criticism earlier this fall when it proposed new efficiency requirements for household furnaces that efficiency advocates said were insufficient. Those standards, which would go into effect in 2015, establish a standard for widely used natural gas furnaces only slightly greater than what was required 20 years ago and at a level that virtually all of the furnaces now on the market already meet.

According to an Associated Press story, it was not immediately clear how the furnace proposal would be affected by the court agreement.

Two organizations representing the HVAC trade, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA), had supported the lawsuit. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) also supported the lawsuit.

Stephen Yurek, ARI COO and general counsel, commented that ARI intervened in this case to ensure a fair schedule of future efficiency standard rulemakings would be agreed to by the parties that would bring the DOE in compliance with the rulemaking requirements of the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act.

“The schedule agreed to by all parties requires the DOE to issue a final rule related to residential air conditioners and heat pumps by June 30, 2011,” Yurek said. “Any increase in minimum efficiency levels would be effective five years later or July 1, 2016. Contrary to the statement made by the other plaintiffs, these future rulemakings may or may not increase the current minimum energy efficiency levels for covered products. The outcome of these future rulemakings may find that it is not technically feasible or economically justified to increase the minimum efficiency level of a covered product.

“The settlement and the law only requires that the DOE conduct a rulemaking to determine whether a higher minimum efficiency level is technically feasible or economically justified.”

Joseph Mattingly, GAMA vice president and general counsel, said his organization became involved in the lawsuit because of the impact of not knowing when the DOE would act on new efficiency standards and because GAMA wants to be a part of the rulemaking process.

“From a product planning standpoint, manufacturers would like to have as much product certainty as they can,” he said. “You need to know one way or another if a standard is going to be realistic or unrealistic. We are in favor of getting a firm schedule out of the DOE.

“We intervened in the lawsuit because we believe that if parties like the DOE and environmental groups are going to convene to discuss new standards, we should be able to be at the table, too. We don’t want other parties scheduling rulemaking involving our products.”

Mattingly added that various environmental groups prefer to put a “spin” on how new efficiency requirements will help the environment, but he added that there is still too much uncertainty. “You can never predict if the standards will be affected, it all depends on what comes out in the rulemaking,” he said. “The settlement just deals with setting a firm schedule, it has nothing to do with what the standards will be.”

Publication date: 12/11/2006