20 November 2006

The Department of Energy Takes Their Good Sweet Time

From WAMC's Peter A. A. Berle:
The Bush administration has given the concept of incompetence a whole new dimension. We are reminded almost daily of its biggest blunders, the conduct of the war in Iraq and the response to hurricane Katrina. Those capture the headlines and fester like sores sapping our blood and treasure. But there are less dramatic and less complicated instances in which the nation's business is not getting done. Recently one was addressed by a federal judge in the Southern District of New York who issued a consent decree requiring the Department of Energy to set new efficiency standards for about two dozen commercial and residential appliances as required by law.

Since the beginning of the second Reagan administration more than twenty years ago, rules have been on the books requiring appliances to meet specific efficiency standards. The law requires the Department of Energy to set new stricter standards periodically so future generations of air conditioners, furnaces, clothes dryers and similar gadgets use less energy than the old machines they replace. The trouble is the Department of Energy has not done so. As a result the Natural Resources Defense Council a national environmental organization, two low-income consumer groups, the City of New York and 15 States joined in a lawsuit to force the Department of Energy to do what it was supposed to. The litigants pointed out that for one appliance category the new standard was 13 years overdue. The law suit has just concluded with a court order specifying that amended standards covering a host of products from room air conditioners to home furnaces be adopted on a schedule which extends from 2007 to the year 2011.

Using less electricity, gas, and fuel oil to maintain our lifestyle seems like such a no-brainer it is hard to fathom why the Department of Energy has not acted. The wars in the Middle East, public health, dependence on foreign oil, air pollution and global warming are all exacerbated by our consumption of fossil fuel generated electricity which has been increasing at a steady pace for decades. The plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit allege that new standards will save enough energy to power 12 million households and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 103 million metric tons a year.

Industry response to the Department of Energy's lethargy is noteworthy. The Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association and the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute joined with the plaintiffs to get the Department of Energy to set new standards as the law requires. Intervening on the opposite side in defense of DOE's recalcitrance was the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers which has opposed appliance efficiency standards over the years with the same tenacity that the auto manufacturers have opposed fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles. Fortunately at least some industry groups see conservation as a worthwhile strategy. I am sure that market opportunities for selling new model machines that use less fuel and are cheaper to operate influence corporate decision making.

Using energy more efficiently has got to be a major component of a national energy policy. The fact that it takes a court order to require the Department of Energy to set appliance standards as required by law reflects how flawed the Bush Administration's approach to energy policy is. In the meantime, wearing damp clothes and living in the dark for the next several years may be something the energy conscious consumer can do. The Court order requires Final Rules covering efficiency standards for clothes dryers and fluorescent lamp ballasts be published on June 30 2011.

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