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Post date: May 23 2002

N.y. And Other States Challenge Federal Energy Rollback

Attorney General Spitzer today criticized the Bush Administration for rolling back a key appliance efficiency rule for air conditioners and heat pumps that would save enough energy to power one million homes per year. The rule addresses central air conditioners and heat pumps for homes, commercial and retail buildings.

"At a time when we should be doing all we can to conserve energy and achieve energy security, it is counter-productive for the Bush Administration to roll back a crucial appliance efficiency standard that would save an enormous amount of energy," said Spitzer. "Not only is this regulatory move a step backward, it is also illegal since federal law prohibits agencies from weakening appliance efficiency rules and mandates more aggressive conservation levels."

Air conditioners use approximately one third of the electricity consumed during peak demand periods. The higher efficiency rule being rolled back today by the federal Department of Energy was years in the making and was scheduled to take effect in February 2001. It was published as a final rule on January 22, 2001. But, acting on a directive from the White House, the federal Department of Energy abruptly postponed the effective date of the rule and announced in April 2001 that it would propose a weaker rule. That weaker standard was announced today in Washington by the Department of Energy.

New York, Vermont and Connecticut filed a challenge to this rollback today in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said: "The Administration's sellout is not even thinly veiled. It is unsupported by a single valid reason to cripple conservation standards. Decimating these energy efficiency standards is a disastrous disservice to consumers and environmental interests, in flagrant defiance of federal law. It means higher energy prices, lower energy supplies, more greenhouse gasses, acid rain and other pollution -- all the result of this administration's contemptuous disregard for Congressionally mandated standards."

The federal law establishing the process for the higher appliance efficiency rule - signed by President Reagan in 1987 - prohibits the federal government from lowering the standard that was to take effect in February 2001. Federal agencies can only strengthen appliance efficiency rules, not weaken them.

Attorneys General from New York, California, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Maine and Nevada, along with national environmental and consumer groups filed suit in federal court last June to protect the stronger rules. A federal district court judge in New York determined that the case should be heard in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit where it is expected to be argued in the coming months.

Air conditioners and heat pumps that meet the higher efficiency standard are already on the market. They are somewhat more expensive than less efficient models but more than repay their higher cost within a few years of use by consuming significantly less energy. An Energy Department study already determined that the stronger rule was economically justified.

"The Department of Energy's own analysis indicates that the stronger rule would save energy, save consumers money, avoid the construction of at least 40 new power plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Spitzer. "Adopting the stronger efficiency standards was a win for the environment and a win for the economy. I will continue to argue in court that it should not be capriciously cast aside."