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Energy Efficiency: Powerful Foe of Global Warming

Energy conservation is the biggest, cheapest way to avoid building new power plants and significantly fight global warming. And it offers powerful economic benefits, as California has found through aggressive programs that have created 1.5 million jobs while cutting energy bills by $56 billion since 1972.

Moreover, energy conservation is something individuals can help with by simply turning off lights, driving less and wearing sweaters.

But, individual efforts, while important, can't achieve the enormous national potential of energy conservation. And, as California's experience shows, the marketplace is not a voluntary participant. That's why Earthjustice and other organizations are advocating strong efficiency standards covering a wide variety of household appliances and commercial products.

Here is a glimpse of how effective these standards can be:

  • New Department of Energy standards for home refrigerators and freezers due in 2010 could save enough electricity annually to eliminate the need to build more than 10 new 500-megawatt power plants.
  • In June of next year, new standards for fluorescent tube lighting are to be released, potentially reducing the need to burn 10 million tons of coal per year—that's about 100,000 rail cars full of coal.
  • Two of the biggest household energy hogs—water heaters and pool heaters—should be corralled in March 2010 by regulations that may save more than 163 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year—an amount almost equaling what the entire nation consumed for home heating and cooking last year in October.
  • Clothes washers and dryers are being targeted by standards due in December 2011 which could deliver enough energy savings to power 150 million 100-watt light bulbs continuously for an entire year.
  • New standards are also in the works for battery chargers, home furnace fans, dishwashers, microwave ovens, walk-in refrigerators, vending machines, and supermarket refrigerators.

Collectively, the potential energy savings are huge. But these things don't just happen, and they often take vigorous lobbying and occasionally litigation. Earthjustice has reviewed energy efficiency standards proposed so far, and along with other groups such as the Appliance Standards Awareness Project and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, we will continue pushing for the strongest possible energy savings.

Earthjustice, in fact, is currently in court to challenge pathetically weak new standards for residential furnaces and for electricity distribution transformers, those gray boxes that step down high voltage power from power lines to the lower voltages we use in our homes, offices, and businesses. According to DOE estimates, requiring all new transformers to achieve the same efficiency levels as the best units currently on the market would eliminate the need for nearly 20 large new power plants over the next 30 years.

There's great momentum building to support smart energy choices, but it's going to take pressure from citizens and legislators along with strategic litigation to force the changes—including tough and vigorously enforced energy efficiency standards—that will save money, improve air quality, and reduce demand for fossil fuels, both foreign and domestic.

These improvements are also absolutely vital if we're to have any hope of slowing, then stopping, then reversing global climate change.