U.S. Senator Tom Harkin backed an amendment supporting 12 SEER.
WASHINGTON, DC — In approving the Senate energy bill, legislators voted for an amendment eliminating language that would have increased central air conditioner and heat pump efficiency by 30% (13 SEER) and instead opted for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to proceed with its expected rulemaking instituting a 20% increase or 12 SEER standard to go into effect in 2006.

“This is a huge win for homeowners, small businesses, and the environment,” stated William G. Sutton, president of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), one of the major proponents of 12 SEER. “The standard is fair because it keeps the equipment affordable and reduces operating costs for consumers. It encourages homeowners to replace lower efficiency equipment sooner, reducing electricity use and power plant emissions.”

Those pushing for 13 SEER did not have the same point of view.

“The U.S. Senate had a chance to demonstrate true leadership when it passed its energy bill. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to step up to the plate,” said John Goodman, chairman of Goodman Manufacturing, one of the primary advocates for 13 SEER. “The real losers are U.S. consumers, who would have seen a dramatic decrease in electricity costs as new, more efficient air conditioners were installed throughout the country. This is a giant step backward.”

The amendment, which won by a vote of 52-47, was presented to the energy bill by senators who preferred going with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of 12 rather than 13, and who wanted the DOE to implement the standard rather than write it into law. However, the amendment does not specify that 12 SEER should be enacted; it directs the DOE to report a new standard within 60 days of final passage of the bill, which now goes to a Senate-House conference committee to reconcile differences with the House bill.

The House version of the energy bill does not include any language dealing with air conditioning standards.


The amendment supporting 12 SEER was offered by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) along with Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Blanche L. Lincoln (D-AR).

During floor debate, Cochran stated, “The amendment that we are offering suggests the appropriate level is 12.” With 13 SEER, “You are going to increase the cost of air conditioners by about $700 each.…That is a huge increase for consumers.”

“By comparison [to 13 SEER], the cost of going to a 12 is only an estimated $407,” said Harkin. If the higher cost 13 SEER units are made the standard, “Will [consumers] ever be able to recoup the cost, especially if they live in Michigan or in Iowa where we need our air conditioners for short periods of time?” he asked. “They would never recoup the money,” he maintained, “if they could even afford it.”

Grassley said, “Economically, a 13 SEER standard just doesn’t make sense. For example, 75 percent of the consumers purchasing 13 SEER units will incur a net cost. At the end of the lifetime of the product, the savings in operating costs won’t be sufficient to offset the additional upfront costs of that particular product.”

Harkin remarked, “The Department of Justice is opposed to this, the Small Business Administration, the National Association of Home Builders, and the Manufactured Housing Institute. It is economically damaging, especially to senior citizens, lower and fixed income families, and… employees in the industry.”

Added Grassley, “The National Association of Home Builders opposes the 13 standard, not because they are opposed to 13, but [because] for each $1,000 added to the cost of a new home, [it] takes out 400,000 buyers.”

Harkin noted, “I don’t think we ought to be mandating appliance standards. This is something that ought to be within the purview of the Department of Energy.

“Our language simply requires the Department of Energy to issue a revised standard which must be higher than the current 10 standard and issue it within 60 days.”

Sutton hailed the amendment, saying, “The Senate made the right choice by ordering a 20% increase in efficiency because air conditioning must be affordable nationwide to serve as a life saver during killer heat waves. This standard helps working families, the elderly, and those on fixed incomes as it helps America meet its energy efficiency needs by eliminating construction of many power plants.”


“By voting for the Harkin amendment, the Senate voted for more power plants, more pollution, and more money out of consumers’ pockets,” said David M. Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy.

“To say we are disappointed is an understatement,” said Good-man. “The energy efficiency savings from the 13 SEER standard would have had a minimal effect on air conditioner unit costs, but would have saved Americans billions of dollars in electricity costs annually.”

Harvey M. Sachs, Ph.D., director, buildings programs, for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), stated, “We are disappointed that the Senate rolled back this important standard when it is increasingly clear that moderating air-conditioning-driven peak loads is essential to preventing blackouts, reducing power prices, and cutting air pollution. The fact is that SEER 13 is a very cost-effective standard, even under the very conservative analysis DOE conducted.”

“ARI said it costs more than $700 more to manufacture a SEER 13 air conditioner and, unfortunately, the Senate believed them,” commented Andrew deLaski, executive director, Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “The industry claimed a SEER 13 standard would put thousands of jobs at risk, and SEER 12 would not, and the Senate believed them.

“It’s a sad day for consumers and the environment when the Senate rejects such a common sense energy-efficiency standard.”

Goodman pointed out that there is still a lawsuit pending in federal court that would require the DOE to implement the 13 SEER standard initiated at the end of the Clinton administration.

“We will be pressing ahead with the lawsuit,” said Katherine Kennedy, senior attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Filed in the Court of Appeals in New York, the 10 plaintiffs include two other environmental organizations and seven states: California, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

“This is not the end of the journey. California — and perhaps other states — will be petitioning for exemption,” said Sachs, in order to adopt 13 SEER. “In addition, we pledge to continue working with industry, utilities, and regional organizations on voluntary programs to provide incentives for high-performance products, not only SEER 13, but better fans and motors, better duct systems, and other features that will help manufacturers and dealers differentiate and sell systems that meet customer needs better.”

Publication date: 05/06/2002