WASHINGTON, DC — The Bush administration’s proposed 12-SEER standard for air conditioners and heat pumps continues to move ahead, albeit at a snail’s pace. Support for the standard continues from the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and some Republican lawmakers. Opposition comes from Goodman Manufacturing, some Democratic lawmakers, and environmental groups.

The long-awaited rule has finally been published in the Federal Register, with a comment period and a hearing set for September.

According to Clifford H. “Ted” Rees Jr., president of ARI, the overwhelming majority of its manufacturer members support 12 SEER — 237 out of 240. Goodman and two smaller manufacturers have come out in favor of 13 SEER.

Fair and Balanced

Speaking before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Rees stated that a 20% increase in the efficiency standard (from 10 SEER to 12 SEER) is “fair, balanced, and economically justified. It meets our energy efficiency needs without punishing those in working families, senior citizens, and the vast majority of the country that will never recover in energy savings the increased costs of a 13-SEER product.”

Rees cited support for 12 SEER from the Small Business Administration and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). He said the National Association of Home Builders opposes 13 SEER and the Manufactured Housing Institute has voiced concern, both because of its higher cost. In addition, he said, “Even the DOE staff did not support a 13 SEER [standard] during last year’s rule-making.”

Because of Goodman’s unusual stance in opposition to almost all of the industry, the company has been getting a lot of attention from the mainstream media, as well as the trade press. It has been steadily promoting 13 SEER, even using its website to advocate that it’s “the right thing to do.”

And although the company has little backing among manufacturers, other 13-SEER supporters have spoken out.

Greatest Energy Savings

Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) commented, “Under pressure from four air conditioner manufacturers, the Energy Department is particularly focused on rolling back the air conditioner standard that delivers the greatest energy savings.”

He noted, “The second largest air conditioner manufacturer (Goodman) supports the [13-SEER] standard. The states of Texas, California, and New York have supported the air conditioner standard. Major electric utilities (National Grid, PSE&G, PG&E, and others) support the air conditioner standard because of its impact on peak demand.”

In his testimony before the House Committee on Science’s Energy Subcommittee, Howard Geller, former executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), maintained, “The Congress should urge the Bush Administration to permit final adoption of a SEER 13 efficiency standard for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps.”

He continued, “Stepping up from SEER 12 to 13 will cut peak electricity demand by 18,000 MW once the standard is fully phased in and cut consumer electricity bills by over $18 billion over the next 30 years. This is one of the most important steps the federal government can take to help California and other states avoid future power shortages.”

A different point of view comes from Jerry Taylor, director of natural resources studies at the Cato Institute. In comments to the Kansas City Star, Taylor said that the best course of action is to “eliminate all federal regulatory interventions. Appliance efficiency standards, for instance, are counterproductive and hurtful to the poor because they increase costs.”

Lawmakers Take Action

In the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Commit-tee, an amendment presented by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) to reinstate the Clinton administration’s 13-SEER standard was defeated by a vote of 19 to 12. The 13-SEER standard “was already on the books, should stay on the books, and we should stay with it,” said Markey.

Republicans said that the Bush administration’s proposed standard was adequate. “The notion that the Bush administration has rolled back a lot of environmental standards is just a lot of poppycock,” said Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA), chairman of the full committee.

(In the full Energy and Commerce Committee, Markey introduced a similar amendment and again lost, this time by a vote of 32 to 23.)

Also in the same subcommittee, an amendment by Represent-ative Ed Bryant (R-TN) to change the standard for air conditioners acquired by the federal government from 13 to 12 SEER, and to add exemptions for applications considered impractical due to cost, space constraints, or national security reasons, was accepted by a vote of 16 to 15.

DOE’s Federal Energy Manage-ment Program (FEMP), in fact, is already promoting 12 SEER to federal agencies upgrading their a/c units. In its guidelines on how to buy energy-efficient equipment, FEMP’s cost-effectiveness example lists 12 SEER as the recommended level.

On July 25, DOE officially published the proposed 12-SEER rule in the Federal Register. As expected, it states that “DOE proposes to amend the currently enforceable standards by raising the minimum energy efficiency levels by 20 percent.” The proposal was strongly endorsed by ARI, with Rees calling it “a consumer-friendly way to conserve energy nationwide.”

DOE also invited public comment, with a 75-day comment period instead of the anticipated 60 days. Comments must be received on or before October 9. The agency requests a signed original, a computer diskette, and 10 copies. It will also accept e-mailed comments, but you must send a signed original.

Oral views, data, and arguments may be presented at the public hearing in Washington, DC, on September 13, at 9:00 a.m., in Room 1E-245 of the DOE’s offices. Requests to speak at the hearing, with a copy of your statements and a computer diskette, must be submitted no later than 4:00 p.m., September 10.

Submit comments and requests to speak at the hearing to: Brenda Edwards-Jones, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Energy Conservation Program for Consumer Products: Central Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps, Docket No. EE-RM/STD-98-440, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20585-0121. Send e-mails to: brenda.edwards-jones@ee.doe.gov.

Publication date: 07/30/2001