Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published a long-awaited new rule governing enforcement of the residential central and single-package air conditioner energy conservation standards that took effect Jan. 1, 2015. Most notably, the enforcement rule includes new mandatory recordkeeping requirements for distributors and contractors in certain regions as well as labeling requirements for manufacturers. The shiny new rule took effect July 1.
In case you missed it the first time, let me rephrase that: A year and a half after the regional energy efficiency standards actually went into effect for this equipment, there is finally a rule in place dictating how the industry is supposed to comply with the standards. A little late to that party, aren’t we, DOE?
Meanwhile, most people up and down the HVACR supply chain are aware the standards changed last year to make 14 SEER the law of the land in the South and Southwest and, despite having zero formal guidance from the DOE, have been abiding by the new standards as best they can.
But wait, it gets better.
The enforcement standard the DOE released, according to some of the people who were in the stakeholder working group that developed the consensus standard at the end of 2014, is extremely close to what was agreed upon a year and a half ago. In fact, I recently spoke with regulatory gurus from a couple of different HVACR industry organizations, and they both agreed there were no surprises in the final rule.
Basically, the DOE’s had the rule in its hands since December 2014, yet only just released it as a final rule in June. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? If you’re confused, join the club.
WHY IT’S A BIG DEAL
At this point, you may be wondering, “How does this affect me?” I thought you’d never ask.
If you’re not a manufacturer, distributor, or contractor in the South or Southwest, this enforcement rule probably doesn’t affect you. But it does highlight some disturbing behavior on the DOE’s part, and it’s not the first time the industry has faced undue regulatory burden and uncertainty at the hands of the agency.
If you read our magazine religiously (which you all do, I’m sure), you’d know we’re not the first to criticize the DOE’s processes. In fact, the agency has been sued over its questionable practices several times in the past few years. In 2011, the American Public Gas Association (APGA) sued the DOE over its furnace regional standards, which, after a somewhat long (and, honestly, rather strange and confusing) legal battle that involved several industry organizations, were eventually vacated and remanded in early 2013, though the DOE is still making headlines by proposing a contentious 92 percent AFUE national standard that also may or may not result in litigation (time will tell on that one). The DOE was also sued over the walk-in coolers and freezers final rule in late 2014, which resulted in portions of that rule being vacated and remanded as part of the settlement.
More recently, several groups threatened legal action when the DOE put out a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) for commercial boiler standards at the same time it put out the NOPR for the test procedure. Basically, that’s like saying, “We want you to meet these new standards with your equipment, but we’re not going to tell you how we actually plan to measure equipment performance until after we set the new efficiency levels.” Luckily, after receiving some serious backlash, the DOE backtracked a little on that one and extended the comment period for the efficiency standards. There are other examples, but my word count is already running over.
My point is that everybody needs to be a watchdog, and we all need to pay attention, especially since industry leaders are all predicting the DOE will only continue to crank out regulations at breakneck speed leading up to the November election. If you haven’t joined an industry organization yet, do so. They’re looking out for this industry, and they need your support. Take advantage of your supply chain. Sign up for email notices on www.energy.gov. Don’t be a bystander.
There’s a lot going on right now on the regulatory front, and though the onslaught of regulations may not impact the business you represent right away, it will trickle down, I promise. There is little room for bystanders in this industry anymore, so stay informed, stay involved, and embrace the watchdog role.
Publication date: 7/4/2016