Six environmental and consumer groups warned the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today that they will sue the agency if it does not meet its legal responsibility to review and update overdue energy efficiency standards for an unprecedented 26 consumer and commercial products — including some of the largest energy users, such as air conditioners, water heaters, refrigerators, and clothes dryers — within 60 days.
Updating the standards for these appliances and equipment would save U.S. consumers at least $22 billion annually on their utility bills and prevent almost 80 million metric tons of carbon pollution — equal to the annual tailpipe emissions from more than 17 million cars — by 2035. These totals represent only the 15 standards where recent projections are available, so the actual number would likely be far higher.
The notice of intent to sue Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the agency is required by law to review and where appropriate, update efficiency standards for each product according to deadlines prescribed in the Energy Policy Conservation Act (EPCA) authorizing the national appliance and equipment standards program. The letter was signed by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council); Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity (with Earthjustice as their counsel); Consumer Federation of America</a>; the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants (MUPHT) (with National Consumer Law Center as its counsel); and Public Citizen.
“DOE under the Trump administration has repeatedly and systemically failed to comply with these basic and important duties,” the letter says. “If DOE does not comply with its duty to complete the actions required under EPCA to review and update the standards for these products within sixty days, we intend to bring suit to compel it to do so.”
Since its 1987 launch, the national efficiency standards program has quietly saved Americans billions of dollars on their utility bills — $500 per household, on average, every year — and is projected to save $2 trillion and help the U.S. avoid 7 billion tons of carbon pollution by 2030. The DOE under President Trump has failed to review more standards than any other presidential administration in the history of the 33-year-old national energy efficiency standards program, denying Americans the billions in energy bill savings and adding millions of tons of pollution to the air.
Some of the standards — which set a minimum level of efficiency—have not been updated for almost a decade. Meanwhile, technology has continued to evolve, making many models of the appliances and equipment far more efficient. Without the required updates to standards, less efficient products remain on the market and consumers may inadvertently choose products that waste energy and cost more to operate.
The letter to Secretary Brouillette notes DOE has missed deadlines for reviewing efficiency standards for 17 products under EPCA, which requires DOE to review a standard every six years and update it if warranted. Here are the products and deadlines:
- Small electric motors (March 9, 2016)
- Pool heaters (April 16, 2016)
- Water heaters (April 16, 2016)
- Clothes dryers (April 21, 2017)
- Room air conditioners (April 21, 2017)
- Oil furnaces and weatherized gas furnaces (June 27, 2017)
- Refrigerators and freezers (Sept. 15, 2017)
- Fluorescent lamp ballasts (Nov. 14, 2017)
- Evaporatively cooled commercial air conditioners (May 16, 2018)
- Water-cooled commercial air conditioners (May 16, 2018)
- Residential clothes washers (May 31, 2018)
- Distribution transformers; Liquid immersed, low-voltage, and medium voltage (April 18, 2019)
- Microwave ovens (June 17, 2019)
- Direct heating equipment (Oct. 17, 2019)
- Dishwashers (Dec. 13, 2019)
- Electric motors (May 29, 2020)
- Furnace fans (July 3, 2020)
Separately, DOE failed to finalize six standards after proposing an efficiency standard improvement. In most cases, the standards must be finalized within two years. The standards and finalization deadlines:
The DOE also missed the April 26, 2019, deadline for updating dedicated outdoor air systems, computer room air conditioners, and VRF (variable refrigerant flow) air conditioners and heat pumps as EPCA requires within 18 months of more stringent standards being set under ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1, which provides minimum requirements for energy efficient building designs except for low-rise residential buildings.
Meanwhile, the agency also has rolled back two light bulb standards that would have saved consumers $14 billion on their utility bills and avoided 38 million tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions every year, actions now being challenged in the courts. DOE finalized changes to its efficiency standards process that will slow down — if not halt altogether — future efforts to make America’s appliances and equipment more efficient. (Several groups sued.) NRDC, Sierra Club, CFA, and others also sued to finally force the DOE to publish four long-delayed standards in the Federal Register — the final necessary step — almost three years later than they should have been finalized.
EPCA allows private groups to sue the DOE over standards after providing 60 days’ notice of intent to do so. When the agency under President George W. Bush missed 22 standards, NRDC and MUPHT sued in 2004, leading to a landmark consent decree that set new, binding deadlines for each standard. Under President Trump DOE has consistently missed deadlines. The agency’s unlawful failure to review and update the energy conservation standards for these 26 products is unacceptable and must be addressed by the court.
For additional information, read a blog post by Lauren Urbanek of NRDC.