Attorney General James Takes Action to Support Repeal of Trump-Era Energy Efficiency Rollbacks

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of 12 attorneys general and the City of New York, today filed a petition for review to support the Biden administration’s efforts to restore key elements of the federal energy efficiency program that were rolled back in the waning days of the previous administration. The coalition’s challenge seeks to support the repeal of two “midnight” rules issued by the Trump administration that undermine strong national energy conservation standards for residential gas furnaces and commercial gas water heaters — standards that the federal government itself projects will dramatically cut climate change pollution and save consumers tens of billions of dollars.

The two Trump-era rules being challenged by the coalition subvert energy efficiency and climate change goals by “grandfathering” inefficient technologies and designs, and further delay the adoption of updated energy efficiency standards for furnaces and water heaters. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has identified the two rules being challenged by the coalition as potentially contrary to President Joseph Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis (Executive Order No. 13990), and thereby, subject to revision, rescission, or suspension.

“Restoring the energy efficiency regulations is one of the most effective ways to fight climate change, save consumers money, and create jobs,” said Attorney General James. “However, in its deregulatory fever, the Trump administration sought to dismantle our nation’s highly successful energy conservation program. By contrast, the Biden administration recognizes the tremendous value that energy efficiency standards have to public health, our environment, and the pocketbooks of consumers. We are taking this action today to support President Biden’s sincere efforts to restore these critically important standards.”    

The coalition is challenging an “interpretive” rule adopted by the Trump DOE that creates a loophole in energy efficiency standards by allowing for the continued sale of energy-inefficient residential gas furnaces and commercial gas water heaters that rely on outdated technologies. A state coalition, led by Attorney General James, submitted three sets of comments in 2019 and 2020 opposing the proposed DOE loophole for appliances with older, less efficient technologies and designs. The coalition is also challenging a rule that withdraws — based on the newly-created loophole — proposed furnace and water heater energy-efficiency standards issued by the Obama administration. Both rules had immediate effective dates.

The DOE’s efficiency standards have been highly effective in reducing consumer and industrial energy consumption and costs, as well as environmental impacts associated with operating common household and commercial equipment. The DOE’s long-standing energy efficiency program has resulted in substantial economic and environmental benefits, with more than $2 trillion in projected consumer savings and 2.6 billion tons of avoided climate change pollution emissions. If the energy efficiency regulations are restored, the DOE projects up to $30 billion in consumer savings and $13 billion in cost savings related to the decreased carbon dioxide and other air pollution emissions over 30 years. The DOE also estimates that the standards abandoned by the Trump administration on commercial water heaters would save commercial consumers up to $6.8 billion and reduce climate change pollution emissions by 98 million metric tons over 30 years of sales.

Joining Attorney General James in filing the lawsuit are the attorneys general of California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and the City of New York.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Lisa S. Kwong and Senior Counsel Timothy Hoffman, under the supervision of Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

According to the New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, since 2017, the Office of the New York Attorney General (OAG) has been a leader in taking legal actions against federal agencies on issues related to the environment. In recent years, the OAG has, to-date, taken over 240 significant regulatory and legal actions — and over 70 actions in 2020 alone — in opposition to the former administration’s concerted, across-the-board drive to undermine many of our nation’s bedrock health, safety, and environmental laws.