William Sutton
ARLINGTON, Va. - On March 17, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) announced that the trade association has withdrawn its challenge of a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regulation affecting central air conditioners and heat pumps that has been pending in federal court since 2001.

"Due to the likelihood of a long and uncertain legal process, ARI will no longer pursue litigation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., so that manufacturers can prepare for a new, 13 SEER national minimum efficiency standard for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps that will go into effect on Jan. 23, 2006," said William Sutton, president of ARI.

In March of 2001, ARI had requested judicial review of the DOE's Jan. 22, 2001, final rule requiring a 30-percent increase in the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for residential air conditioners and heat pumps. ARI supported raising the current standard by 20 percent, from 10 SEER to 12 SEER.

On Jan. 13, 2004, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that DOE, in enacting the 12 SEER standard after the original 13 SEER standard had been approved, "failed to effect a valid amendment of the original standard's effective date, and as a consequence was thereafter prohibited from amending those standards downward."

"Manufacturers face significant challenges in meeting the deadline for the 13 SEER standard, which is less than two years away," said Sutton. "The industry needs to know with certainty what the standard will be in order to meet the needs of the marketplace. Because of the approaching effective date and the uncertainty of the court action, ARI has withdrawn its request for review of the 13 SEER rule by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va."

The current 10 SEER standard, which went into effect in 1992, will continue to be the national minimum efficiency standard for central air conditioners and heat pumps until Jan. 23, 2006. Equipment manufactured after that date must meet the 13 SEER standard.

According to ARI, the DOE excluded "space constrained products" no greater than 30,000 Btuh from the 13 SEER requirement, stating that these products, which include through-the-wall packaged and split, ductless split, single package, and non-weatherized equipment, would be covered by subsequent rules. That rulemaking by DOE is expected to begin later this year. For these products, the current minimum efficiency standard will continue until the compliance date set forth in a future DOE final rule covering the products.

Carrier Corp. had dropped its challenge to the 13 SEER standard on March 11. Geraud Darnis, president of Carrier Corp., stated, "A 13 SEER standard is the right environmental choice. It provides significant energy savings for the country while reducing energy bills for homeowners." He noted that it was possible that the 4th Circuit Court challenge could result in the standard reverting back to the 10 SEER minimum.

"Given the choice between 10 SEER or 13 SEER, we think the industry should support higher efficiency," he said. "While this increase in efficiency represents a significant challenge for the industry, Carrier will be prepared to meet that challenge to support our customers. The nation, the industry, and the public need certainty on the new standard, so we encourage the industry to embrace 13 SEER."

"We support higher efficiency standards for residential air conditioning systems," commented Lisa Glover, spokesperson for American Standard Residential Products. "We have a 19.5-SEER-rated air conditioner, the highest in the market. This demonstrates our support of higher efficiency standards. They are good for the environment."

Publication date: 03/22/2004