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Delayed Energy Efficiency Standards Finally Published

Four long-delayed energy efficiency standards are finally ensconced in law thanks to a 2018 district court decision and a recent unanimous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco that ordered the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to implement them. The standards were published today in the Federal Register, the final necessary step—almost three years later than when they should have been finalized.


The delayed standards will save consumers $8.4 billion in utility bill costs while avoiding nearly 100 million tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years, equivalent to the emissions from powering 10.6 million homes annually. They cover portable air conditionersuninterruptible power supplies (the battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out), air compressors used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, and packaged boilers that heat one-fourth of the nation’s commercial space.

These standards were completed through a stakeholder process during the Obama administration, but the final step—sending them to the Federal Register for publication—was due to happen during the first months of the Trump administration. When DOE failed to finalize these standards in March 2017 as required by law, NRDC, as well as 12 states and a coalition of advocacy groups, took the agency to court. NRDC won an initial ruling from the district court, which DOE then appealed, claiming it had no obligation to publish the standards. The federal appeals court decision in October 2019 upheld the lower court's ruling and confirmed DOE had "a non-discretionary duty to publish the standards in the Federal Register, and its refusal to do so violated the rule." From families to businesses to energy efficiency workers, everyone benefits from efficiency standards like these, which not only save money and energy but create jobs and cut air pollution.

Delaying these commonsense energy efficiency standards is not the only way the Trump administration has tried to stall or roll back progress. Instead of continuing the $2 trillion success story of energy efficiency standards that began with the establishment of a national program under President Ronald Reagan in 1987, the program has made little progress in the past three years. The DOE has missed legal deadlines for review of at least 19 product standards and 18 test procedures.

DOE is also moving in entirely the wrong direction, by first issuing a rule to allow the continued sales of highly wasteful incandescent and halogen bulbs and then abandoning standards that would have required the everyday pear-shaped bulbs found in most of the remainder of America’s sockets to become more efficient as of January 1, 2020. In addition, we expect DOE to finalize changes to the process it uses to set standards that would be highly detrimental to ensuring that future standards are strong and are updated on a regular basis.

While the road ahead for efficiency standards is anything but smooth, today's publication of these overdue standards is an important victory. A small but important segment of products sold in the United States will at last meet the performance standards they were poised to meet nearly three years ago. It's a heartening development in a period filled with strong advocacy for energy efficiency in the face of an administration senselessly devoted to moving backwards.

NRDC Expert Blog by Lauren Urbanek

Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council's expert blogs.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 10, 2020 5:38 pm GMT

The delayed standards will save consumers $8.4 billion in utility bill costs while avoiding nearly 100 million tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years

Efficiency is such an easy and fruitful way to make this type of progress-- it's frustrating that it took this long, but great to see that the consumers are now the ones ready to save

Gary Hilberg's picture
Gary Hilberg on Jan 15, 2020 7:40 pm GMT

It is always amazing when organizations/companies are against energy standards.  As a technology driven economy these standards require more advanced and higher quality equipment which add more value to the US economy.  We get more US manufacturing and we get reduced energy usage and a lower life cycle cost.  

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 15, 2020 10:19 pm GMT

It's similar to the oil companies recently positioning themselves as helping move the needle on climate change through half measures and goalpost moving:

They are willing to make changes, but only on their own terms and when it maximizes the benefit to them. Understandably, these large corporations will typically operate in self-interest-- that's where regulatory processes that prioritize the public good are critical. 

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