Trump admin targets more Obama efficiency rules

Source: By Lesley Clark, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Environmental and consumer advocacy groups that say the Department of Energy is backtracking on energy efficiency by allowing old-style lightbulbs to stay on the market are arguing the Trump administration is going further and readying changes to more rules that could make it harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Those critics say revisions in the works — touching everything from furnaces to dishwashers — would slow energy efficiency efforts as part of an anti-regulatory push by the administration that has industry support.

“Because it’s arcane and technical, the general public has no reason to know it exists, but at the same time it has this massive potential impact on one of government’s key tools to fight climate change,” Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean energy program, said of one of the proposed changes to the department’s “process rule” under which new standards are developed. “It’s a major tool the government has at its disposal, but they’re choosing to make it more difficult and less effective.”

Product manufacturers and the department say the concerns are overblown and that the rules being revised are outdated and will allow the department to focus on setting new standards for products that can deliver significant energy or water savings.

“The rule recognizes that because we’ve worked so hard to improve the efficiency, there’s not so much room for improvement for some products and it’s important for DOE to prioritize,” Jennifer Cleary, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, which represents most household appliances, said of the process rule.

Francis Dietz, vice president of public affairs at the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, said, “Our basic belief is that if you are going to have manufacturers have to do an entire retooling of their product line, it has to be worth something.

“It has to actually result in energy savings, it shouldn’t just be arbitrary, just, oh, well, it’s 13 now so it should go to 14. It needs to be measurable,” he added.

The Department of Energy did not respond to a request for comment about pending rule changes.

Environmental and consumer advocates, however, say the next round of efficiency rules together could have major repercussions for climate change and a significant energy impact like the recent Trump action to rescind the Obama-era lightbulb standards. Last week, Earthjustice, NRDC, the Consumer Federation of America and others sued the administration over those lighting rules (Energywire, Sept. 5).

The proposed revisions to DOE’s “process rule,” for instance, come as the department has endorsed a petition from the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, which would create a new class of dishwashers that complete the task in less than an hour (Energywire, Feb. 8).

The fast-acting dishwashers would be exempt from current energy efficiency standards, even though a federal anti-backsliding federal law prohibits new standards from being weaker than the existing standard, critics say (Greenwire, Oct. 18). CEI’s Ben Lieberman, though, argues that some of the standards are reaching a point of diminishing returns and that critics, “given the current political climate, will oppose everything.”

Critics fear that if the rule is finalized, it would open the door to attempts to circumvent the provision that bars weakening the standards.

“By creating a new class, the effect is to eliminate standards for dishwashers in the market, it’s a way to get around the backslide,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

The agency is also poised to grant a gas industry petition that would allow for the continued sale of less energy-efficient gas furnaces and water heaters, deLaski said. The Obama administration had proposed two rules that would essentially mandate products with high-efficiency condensing technology that can cut energy use by 10% to 20%.

The change would cut off the potential for future standards to reduce the amount of natural gas, deLaski said.

But Caroline Davidson-Hood, general counsel at the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, said that although the high-efficiency gas and heating products make up an increasing share of the market, it can be costly to install the venting that the condensing technology requires.

“We see the market already moving toward more efficiency where it can, and we see that as a good thing, but for individuals who have a hardship, it’s sometimes not possible to replace their venting system,” she said.

The agency is also considering a change to the testing procedures that manufacturers use to certify compliance with efficiency standards. DOE rules now allow manufacturers to be granted a temporary waiver to the testing procedure when introducing a product with a new technology not covered by the test procedure (Greenwire, May 1).

But deLaski says the change would grant manufacturers an automatic interim waiver and could allow manufacturers to sell products that may be noncompliant with existing standards.

“This creates the potential for regulatory mayhem, and that’s not good for the companies that play by the rules,” deLaski said, noting that the proposal was not widely embraced by the manufacturing industry.

Clark Silcox, an attorney with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, said a number of other routine rulemaking activities in the works involve small electric motors, metal-halide lamp fixtures and fluorescent lamp ballasts.

He said many of the changes to DOE rules would allow the agency to “go after things that will make a bigger bang for the buck in terms of energy savings. Congress has given them all these demands but not an unlimited budget.”

The proposed changes come as the agency has missed more than 30 deadlines for updating standards and the corresponding test procedures. Those missed deadlines landed the department before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in March, with Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) accusing the agency of “dragging its feet” on enacting energy efficiency standards.

“They’re doing all these things to make the standards program weaker, and at the same time they’re missing one legal deadline after another to update the standards,” deLaski said.

The agency has recently started work on reviewing several standards, including for refrigerators, and Daniel Simmons, the assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, testified before Pallone’s committee that revising the updated process could improve DOE’s ability to meet deadlines “the program has had difficulty meeting throughout its history.”

“This change also shows that the department is truly focused on pursuing standards with the greatest environmental benefit,” Simmons said.