On Aug. 4, the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and Lennox Intl. Inc. filed a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to review the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) final rule establishing energy conservation standards for walk-in coolers and freezers (WICF). The DOE, AHRI said, did not follow proper protocol when developing the rule and issued standards that many in the industry feel are unfair. The petition for court review follows a July 30 petition to DOE for reconsideration of the rule.

“In issuing this final rule on WICF equipment, DOE exceeded its statutory authority and failed to comply with agency rulemaking requirements,” said Stephen Yurek, president and CEO, AHRI. “As a result, we have no choice but to challenge the legality of the rule.”

Waiting on the DOE

On May 27, AHRI and Zero Zone Inc., a North Prairie, Wisconsin-based manufacturer of refrigerated display cases and refrigeration systems, submitted a petition for court review of the DOE’s final rule establishing energy conservation standards for commercial refrigeration equipment. With the Aug. 4 petition, AHRI and Lennox allege the DOE has again failed to follow its own rulemaking process.

As they wait to see how the DOE will respond to the petition for reconsideration, AHRI and Lennox have filed a motion to have the Aug. 4 lawsuit “placed into a temporary abeyance pending action within a reasonable time frame by the [DOE] on AHRI’s pending petition for reconsideration directed to DOE.”

“We’re being overly cautious and making sure that if DOE doesn’t act in a timely fashion on our request, or if they find they don’t have the authority, we then have a vehicle to get these errors corrected,” Yurek said. “We’re hoping they’ll respond at least initially sometime in the next 90-180 days. It’d be great if it was sooner than that.”

Follow the Rules

Yurek said AHRI just wants transparency in the rulemaking process, which is something the DOE has been providing less and less of as it develops regulations faster than ever before.

“Yes, it’s this rulemaking,” he said, “but it’s really dealing with the broken rulemaking process where DOE is not as transparent as it should be. DOE’s moving as quickly as it can to push rules forward instead of doing it right. We’re hoping it doesn’t become a trend.”

Charlie McCrudden, senior vice president of government relations for ACCA, said his organization also believes the standards were developed unfairly. He stressed that ACCA will be closely following the rulemaking.

“Like the commercial refrigeration standard, we were disappointed that the energy-efficiency standard for walk-in coolers and freezers was set very high and seemed to ignore stakeholder comments about the economic justification and the technical feasibility,” McCrudden said. “Our members don’t manufacture these products, but they sell and install them. It poses an extra level of responsibility and complexity.”

Jon Melchi, director of government affairs for Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), called the WICF rulemaking “overly aggressive” and said it would have “a severe, negative impact” on the HVACR industry.

“It’s unfortunate that our industry has to continue to, after many attempts at providing information and working in good faith during these processes, turn to the legal system for remedy in hopes of forcing the DOE to do what they should’ve done all along,” Melchi said. “I think we’ve been on the record as stating this rulemaking is going to have a negative impact on our industry and consumers, who are going to be faced with higher costs and fewer choices.”

Melchi also noted that, in the wake of the regional standards lawsuit, it seems as though a trend may be developing.

“We’re beginning to see a pattern of overzealous regulation, and it’s imperative that, as the DOE develops regulations, it follows the rules and make sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. Yet, over and over again, we’ve seen a failure to do so,” he said. “It’s unclear at times on how the department arrives at the conclusions that it does, and there are a lot of folks in the industry who felt, despite many efforts to engage the DOE, the information the industry has provided is falling on deaf ears, and that the industry’s insight is really not being taken into account.”

Industry Bands Together

For now, AHRI and Lennox are waiting to see how the DOE will respond to the petition for reconsideration while ACCA, HARDI, and other industry organizations keep a watchful eye. Meanwhile, the petition for court review remains on the back burner, just in case.

In the end, Yurek said everyone has the same goal, and working together is going to be key.

“We want to produce high-quality equipment that uses resources efficiently and provide safe products. We want to make sure they’re done right.”

McCrudden agreed, saying, “We are supportive of AHRI’s efforts and are considering intervening on AHRI’s behalf.”

“Nobody wants to have an adversarial relationship with the regulatory industry,” Melchi added. “But when you feel that the agency isn’t taking into account all the things mandated by law, and they’re not following the proper guidelines, and it’s having a negative impact on people’s livelihoods, you’ve got no choice.”

SIDEBAR: Enforcement Coming

The negotiated rulemaking to create an enforcement plan for regional standards for split system air conditioners and single package central air conditioners began Aug. 13 with the first meeting of the Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee (ASRAC) – Regional Standards Enforcement Working Group.

The group is comprised of industry organizations, manufacturers, and other interested parties, and is tasked with developing an enforcement scheme for regional standards for split system and single package central air conditioners. The group’s goal is to produce an enforcement solution by Oct. 31. In a negotiated rulemaking, regulators, the regulated entities, and other stakeholders meet to develop a rule. It is a more collaborative approach to develop rules in comparison to the typical notice and comment process.

New regional minimum energy conservation standards for split system and single package central air conditioners go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. There will be three regions based on the heating degree days or the climate of a state: the base region (North), the Southeast region, and the Southwest region.

The minimum energy use standard for central air conditioners installed in the North region remains at 13 SEER, so there is no change; the current standard of 13 SEER increases to 14 SEER in the Southeast. In the Southwest, the current standard of 13 SEER becomes more complicated:

• For split system central air conditioners, the new standard in the Southwest region will be 14 SEER plus a variable EER value based on the size of the system. If the size is less than 45,000 Btu, the standard will require a minimum of 14 SEER and 12.2 EER performance; if greater than 45,000 Btu, the standard mandates 14 SEER and 11.7 EER performance.

• For single package central air conditioners, the new standard will be 14 SEER and 11 EER.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will allow split system and single package central air conditioners manufactured before Jan. 1, 2015, to the base standard (13 SEER) to be installed in the Southeast and Southwest regions until July 1, 2016. This 18-month grace period will allow for the sell through of stockpiled 13 SEER units in the Southeast and Southwest regions.

Information courtesy of ACCA. For more information on the working group, including meeting dates and webinar information, visit http://bit.ly/RegionalStandardsASRAC.

Publication date: 8/25/2014

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