On Sept. 23, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) denied a petition from Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and Lennox Intl. Inc. that asked the government agency to reconsider its June 3 final rule establishing energy-conservation standards for walk-in coolers and freezers (WICF). AHRI and Lennox, who argued the final rule was promulgated unfairly and contained nearly unattainable efficiency standards, filed the petition for reconsideration on July 30 in hopes the DOE would review its WICF final rule without the need for court intervention.

However, with the DOE denying the petition, AHRI said it now plans to move forward with its lawsuit against the DOE, which had previously been held in abeyance while awaiting the DOE’s response to the petition for reconsideration.

“We had hoped the DOE would determine it had the authority to correct its errors without requiring judicial action,” said Stephen Yurek, president and CEO, AHRI. “We are disappointed, but will now request the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit move forward with our request for judicial review of the WICF rule.”

The DOE, AHRI asserts, did not follow proper protocol when promulgating the WICF final rule and issued energy-conservation standards that many in the industry feel are unfair, not technologically feasible, and unnecessarily burdensome to HVACR manufacturers.

Similarly, in May of this year, 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. Both lawsuits allege the DOE failed to follow its own protocol and take industry input into account when promulgating new efficiency standards.

“This situation is emblematic of a broken process, in our view,” Yurek said. “In the past, there was open communication between DOE and AHRI during the rulemaking process. The DOE has now instituted procedures that restrict these communications to formal written comments and comments made during a public meeting — a process that clearly does not work for these technical rules where the expertise does not lie within the government or its contractors, but with the AHRI members that design and manufacture these products. AHRI will continue to investigate avenues to improve communication with DOE and mend a broken rulemaking process.”

Jon Melchi, director of government affairs for Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), previously called the DOE’s WICF final rule “overly aggressive” and said HARDI will continue to support AHRI’s efforts to hold the department accountable.

“We’re disappointed in the Department of Energy’s decision [to deny the petition for reconsideration] and we support the manufacturers’ efforts to fix not only this particular rule, but this broken process, which has continually led to conflict between the DOE and our industry,” Melchi said. “We’ll be consulting with our HARDI leadership and industry partners to decide the best path forward in supporting AHRI’s efforts.”

Charlie McCrudden, senior vice president of government relations, ACCA, said ACCA is also “disappointed” in the DOE’s decision to deny the petition for reconsideration. He added that ACCA is acting as an intervener in the case on behalf of AHRI.

“There were a lot of concerns raised during the rulemaking — both in public hearings and in the comments that were filed — that made it clear the [efficiency] levels the DOE was going with were going to be very difficult or impossible for manufacturers to comply with,” McCrudden said. “ACCA’s interest in this case is based on the fact that contractors, the assemblers of WICF equipment, are considered the manufacturer; because the product is assembled onsite and charged onsite, the manufacturer is, in the traditional view, the contractor, or the installer. That’s why ACCA has an elevated interest in this case, and that’s why the organization has filed as an intervener.”

He added, “Our staff is also disappointed in the DOE’s response and discouraged because this is one more instance where the rulemaking process may not be working properly.”

Publication date: 10/13/2014

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