Department of Energy Allowing America's Energy to Waste Away

Groups file suit seeking stronger energy efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps


Tim Ballo, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Jenny Powers, Natural Resources Defense Council, (212) 727-4566
Jim Milkey, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, (617) 727-2200

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the state of Massachusetts have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for failing to strengthen weak and outdated energy efficiency standards for commercial heating and cooling equipment. The suit challenges DOE’s weak and outdated standards allowing these products to continue to waste both energy and money, and generate thousands of needless tons of air pollution, including greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. 

“Strong efficiency performance standards are the antidote to America’s ailing energy system,” said David B. Goldstein, Air & Energy director for NRDC.  “Energy efficiency — a technology we have available to us right now — will help curb global warming, maximize energy savings, and protect consumers and the environment. Technology, science and the law demand that we act now to move cleaner and greener products into the marketplace. The DOE needs take its blinders off and step out of the way of America’s progress.”

DOE adopted the standards for new air conditioners, heat pumps, and similar products commonly used in offices, schools and other commercial facilities on March 7. The standards are far weaker than recommended by experts at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), a professional group recognized by Congress as an authority on energy efficiency.

“Instead of requiring less energy waste as the law requires, the Department of Energy  came up with a tortured reading of the law to avoid adopting stronger minimum standards,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo. “The energy savings that could be had through better standards for these products are substantial; enough to eliminate the need for several major new power plants. Stronger standards would curb air pollution and harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. It’s a win-win situation that, unfortunately, DOE has chosen to ignore.”

The final March 2007 rules represent a complete about-face from a 2006 DOE proposal to adopt the substantially stronger ASHRAE standards. DOE claims the sudden reversal is justified by provisions of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, but Massachusetts, Earthjustice, and NRDC say the law was designed to promote more conservation, not less.

Improvements in energy efficiency can substantially reduce the need for new coal-fired power production and the dangerous pollution it produces. There are currently more than 100 coal-fired power plants proposed for construction across the United States. These new plants would lead to millions of tons of additional air pollutants, including soot, smog, and carbon dioxide emissions. Stronger standards for air conditioners and heat pumps will also improve the bottom line for businesses and schools that would see a dramatic reduction in their monthly utility bills if these improvements were adopted. 

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