Jon Melchi
Last summer in the pages of this magazine’s sister publication, The NEWS, an editorial titled “Time to Throw in the Towel on Regional Standards” was written. In this column the author argued that HARDI’s efforts to seek a more favorable resolution to the Regional Standards lawsuit was causing more harm than good, and therefore HARDI should drop its efforts to challenge the standards set by the Department of Energy (DOE) and accept an incomplete settlement proposal. In fact the column went so far as to state that “the industry’s reputation was at stake.”

When I first saw the opinion piece, I forwarded it to HARDI leadership and the basic tenor of their replies were first a sarcastic, “With content like that, it’s hard to believe the publishing industry is struggling,” before reaffirming that HARDI needed to “keep doing the right things.” HARDI’s 2013 President, Brian Cobble of the G.W. Berkheimer Co., was kind enough to write a brief reply and outline why HARDI continued to pursue a better legal result, but more importantly the HARDI board of directors never allowed a little negative press to cloud their judgment on the best way to serve our members.

It’s this last piece that I have been most thankful for, because I know that from the time HARDI first formally opposed the DOE’s Direct Final Rule, which established the Regional Standards, until the time a settlement was filed with the court, that many distributors, members of the HARDI board of directors, and officers were often faced with significant external pressure to make this thing go away, and yet they never wavered. To me this is the essence of leadership. Doing the right thing even if it might be in your own self-interest to do otherwise, and to do so in the face of criticism and pressure.

HARDI leadership made very clear that our number one goal was to find the best solution for the wholesale-distribution community, and the input given at the distributor town hall session of the HARDI Annual Conference proved invaluable in setting parameters for what success would look like. In Phoenix, we were told that if a settlement opportunity presented itself the two most important things for HARDI to secure would be to allow for some method that a distributor could prevent stranded inventory and to limit the distributor’s liability in enforcement of a regional standard.

Fortunately, and with support from a reunified HVACR supply chain, HARDI was able to secure these provisions to protect HARDI members in the South and Southwest who face  regionalized efficiency standards for central air conditioners and single packaged air conditioners. Those members will have 18 months to clear any inventory of 13 SEER equipment which is manufactured by the end of the year. Additionally, DOE has agreed not to enforce civil penalty upon distributors as part of the enforcement of this new standard. For distributors in the North who faced a regionalized standard for residential and mobile home gas furnaces, that standard has been remanded and a new standard will likely not take effect until the year 2022.

I believe to go from where we stood in 2011, when the Direct Final Rule was finalized by the DOE to where we stood in March 2014, when this settlement was finalized with the court, was nothing short of amazing and could not have been accomplished without the guidance, hard work, and expertise of the legal team from Cause of Action, who represented HARDI on a pro bono basis and who developed and executed a legal strategy which gave HARDI the leverage needed to secure this settlement. HARDI President Royce Henderson said it best following the settlement when he stated, “We cannot thank the talented folks at Cause of Action enough. They have given a voice to the many small businesses that make up HARDI and have helped hold the DOE accountable.”

Finally, I want to again restate my sincere thanks to our entire HARDI membership for its support throughout this process. Without the unified front that our industry displayed, coming to this favorable conclusion would not have been possible.