This June, President Obama said in a speech that "one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to make our economy stronger and cleaner is to make our economy more energy efficient." This week he outlined a plan to spend federal funds to help insulate and weatherize American homes.
As Department of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu prepares to speak Sunday, December 13 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen about U.S. efforts to lead in energy efficiency and renewable energy, Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo reflects on what this administration has and has not done on energy efficiency, and the opportunities that still remain:
"President Obama and Secretary Chu have both been vocal proponents of strong energy efficiency standards. Efficiency is the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to reduce our energy consumption, save money, and promote a clean, renewable energy future.
"But while the DOE has talked the talk, the jury is still out on whether they will truly walk the walk. The law requires the Department of Energy to promulgate energy efficiency standards applicable to a wide variety of products intended for residential and commercial use. From dishwashers to microwave ovens, fluorescent tube lights to air conditioners, vending machines to refrigerators, the opportunities for curbing our energy use, saving families billions of dollars in utility bills, and cutting global warming pollution are staggering.
"But the DOE has historically been either indifferent or openly hostile towards it obligations under the law. The previous administration's interpretation of the law still remains one of the most significant barriers to effective appliance efficiency standards. Despite a very public commitment by the Obama administration to energy efficiency, it remains to be seen whether they are willing to follow through with standards that help spur technological innovation.
"We are currently working with other energy efficiency advocates to strengthen the law and streamline the regulatory process. The DOE is now developing efficiency standards for commercial clothes washers (due January 2010), small electric motors (due February 2010), residential water heaters, pool heaters and direct heating equipment (due March 2010) and residential refrigerators and freezers (due December 2010). According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, the potential energy savings from these four standards alone could equal 18.4 billion kilowatt hours per year by 2020. That is equivalent to all the electricity produced by about 5 average-sized coal-fired power plants if they ran at full power non-stop for an entire year.
"Climate negotiators in Copenhagen recognize the problems of global warming and we hope our government plays an active role in working towards solutions. We also hope the DOE takes their rhetoric seriously in setting these and other future appliance standards and recognizes the huge energy and cost savings potential right here in the U.S."