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Post date: June 19 2001

States Sue To Reverse Bush Policy On Appliance Regs

New York Attorney General Spitzer, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other national environmental and consumer groups today filed a lawsuit against the Bush Administration over its decision to significantly weaken and delay a high energy efficiency standard for large residential air conditioning systems.

That standard would have made central air conditioning units 30 percent more efficient and saved enough energy to power one million homes per year. The standard applies to central air conditioning systems, not to small air conditioners designed to cool individual rooms. Air conditioners use about 10 percent of the nation's electricity.

"This is a time when the federal government should be doing everything possible to encourage the efficient use of energy," Spitzer said. "Instead, the Bush administration has dramatically weakened one of the most effective ways to conserve energy. With this lawsuit, we are seeking to compel the administration to adopt a more forward-looking course that will help lower energy bills and reduce air pollution."

The high efficiency standard -- years in the making under the administrations of former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and Bill Clinton -- was set to take effect in February 2001. But acting on a directive from the White House in January, the federal Department of Energy abruptly postponed the effective date of the energy efficiency standard and on April 13 announced it would propose a significantly weaker standard.

The federal law establishing the process for the high efficiency standard -- signed by President Reagan -- prohibits the federal government from rolling back or weakening the standard that was to take effect in February 2001.

California Attorney General Lockyer said: "California is among the leading states when it comes to energy conservation, and Californians are working even harder to reach new conservation goals in the midst of the power crisis. By ignoring and trying to eliminate the toughened efficiency standard for air conditioners, the Bush administration is unnecessarily making it harder for California."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said: "This rule reversal is really role reversal and betrayal. The energy department is abandoning energy efficiency and consumer interests in favor of special interests in the air conditioning and energy industries. Every summer day of rising temperatures shows that energy waste must be stopped. This lawsuit puts heat on the Administration to obey the law."

Ashok Gupta, director of the Air and Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "At a time when states are experiencing or worried about brownouts, when consumers are paying high utility prices, and when power plants are a major source of air pollution, the Department of Energy's attempt to delay and weaken energy efficiency standards for air conditioners is not only illegal, but staggeringly short-sighted."

The federal Department of Energy's own analysis indicates that the high efficiency standard would:

  • Save 729 billion kilowatt hours of electricity over 25 years. This equals the amount of electricity used by 65 million homes in one year;
  • Save consumers $1 billion over 25 years;
  • Avoid construction of 39 new power plants; and
  • Cut greenhouse gas emissions by 33 million metric tons of carbon from the year 2006 through 2020. This equals the greenhouse gas emissions of three million cars in one year.
Under the high efficiency standard that would have taken effect in February 2001, energy and cost savings would increase with each passing year and pollution levels would decrease as old air conditioning systems are phased out of service and replaced with new, more efficient units.

If the Bush administration's lower efficiency target is adopted, energy and cost savings and pollution reductions would be one-third less than under the standard that was to have taken effect last February.

American manufacturers currently produce seven million central air conditioning units per year for residential use. Of those, one million already meet the high efficiency standard, a clear indication that greater energy efficiency is technologically achievable and cost-effective.

The high efficiency standard is strongly supported by major manufacturers of central air conditioning systems, including Goodman Global Holding, the company that makes Amana-brand appliances.

"Setting a new national standard for air conditioners will give consumers an enormous cost savings, U.S. energy consumption will drop and our environment will benefit from reduced air pollutant emissions and greenhouse gases," said John Goodman, president of Goodman Global Holding, the second-largest residential air conditioning manufacturer in the United States. "The facts are straightforward. The technology to improve energy efficiency of air conditioners has been around for over 15 years."

More than 80 percent of new homes are now built with central air conditioning systems, which cost up to $5,000. While the cost of equipment under the high efficiency standard could increase up to $340, that increase would be totally offset during the first five to seven years of operation of air conditioning systems designed to last up to 20 years.

On a national basis, air conditioning is the largest single contributor to electricity demand on hot summer days. As such "peak demand" for electricity grows, more power plants must be built to meet it. Making air conditioners more efficient allows Americans to stay cool while reducing the need to build additional power plants.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court in Manhattan. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Consumer Federation of America, the Association for Energy Affordability and the Public Utility Law Project have filed a similar lawsuit.

The case is being handled by New York Assistant Attorney General D. Scott Bassinson, under the supervision of Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Peter H. Lehner. The case is being handled in California by Rick Frank, Chief Assistant Attorney General.