A federal district court in New Mexico granted a preliminary injunction to stop the city of Albuquerque, N.M., from enforcing its new Energy Conservation Code and High Performance Building Ordinance. In its 24-page opinion, issued Oct. 3, the court stated that while the city’s goals were laudable, the code, as enacted, “infringes on an area preempted by federal law.”

The date for the final hearing on the matter will be determined at a court conference in early November. Joe Mattingly, secretary and general counsel for the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), said the industry’s case looks “promising,” but he was not about to “count his chickens before they’re hatched.”

“We’ll have to wait and see,” he cautioned.

In late August, AHRI - in conjunction with several industry associations and numerous local Albuquerque HVACR distributors, dealers, and contractors - filed a formal complaint against the city of Albuquerque, contending the city’s new legislation violated federal law. The ordinance, which was to become effective for new construction in October and for replacement equipment next July, would have mandated a 90 percent minimum AFUE for residential furnaces and a 14 SEER minimum for air conditioners and heat pumps.

AHRI and other industry insiders and associations maintained that the city had to get a waiver of federal preemption for provisions in the code. They stated that before the code could be enforced, the Department of Energy (DOE) had to grant a waiver after a thorough review process “that could take years to complete,” according to Charles McCrudden, director of government relations for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

“Unfortunately, the drafters of the code were unaware of the long-standing federal statutes governing the energy efficiency of certain HVAC and water-heating products and expressly preempting state regulations of these products when the code was drafted and, as a result, the code, as enacted, infringes on an area preempted by federal law,” wrote Martha Vasquez, chief district court judge, in the Oct. 3 ruling.

“The extent to which the code and the ordinance are preempted will be determined after development of a full record.”

The final outcome of this challenge could have ramifications for the HVACR industry.

“Those of us who know the marketplace - the equipment manufacturers, dealers, and installers - have discovered that when minimum standards are raised beyond the point at which they are economically justifiable, it results in more repairs and fewer replacements of older, less-efficient equipment, therefore saving no energy,” remarked AHRI president Stephen Yurek.

Publication date:10/20/2008