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Energy Efficiency

Promoting Energy Efficiency at the Federal and State Level

Making appliances and buildings more energy efficient is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Aside from automobiles, appliances and equipment are the largest users of energy derived from fossil fuels. The federal government and California have set minimum energy efficiency standards for a number of commercial and residential appliances, including heating and cooling equipment, water heaters and refrigerators.

Enforcing the Energy Policy & Conservation Act

A man measuring a window with a tape measure.

Under the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), the Department of Energy (DOE) is required to regularly revise and strengthen appliance efficiency standards. Unfortunately, DOE has a long history of foot-dragging in this area, missing deadlines and setting weak standards. California and other states repeatedly have been forced to sue DOE to ensure compliance with EPCA. For example, states successfully challenged DOE's rollback of efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps that took place soon after the Bush Administration took office. Natural Resources Defense Council v. Abraham, 355 F.3d 179 (2d Cir. 2004).

In September 2005, the California Attorney General, along with the California Energy Commission and other states, sued DOE for its failure to meet the rulemaking deadlines under EPCA for over twenty categories of consumer and commercial products. For some products, revised standards were more than 10 years overdue. The states successfully negotiated a consent judgment that imposed court-enforced deadlines for the rulemakings. Read the consent decree, pdf. Under the consent decree, DOE has issued improved standards for some products, and is in the rulemaking process on others.

The Attorney General’s comment letters and litigation in recent years have resulted in improved federal standards for distribution transformers, residential central air conditioners and heat pumps, residential furnaces and boilers, and certain commonly used lighting. As the Attorney General’s comments stated, the lighting standards are the largest potential energy saver among 25 new appliance efficiency standards that DOE must complete during the next four years. Read the comments, pdf. In response to our comments, on June 29, 2009, the White House announced new lighting standards that are expected to avoid the emission of up to 594 million tons of carbon dioxide from 2012 through 2042 - roughly equivalent to removing 166 million cars from the road for a year, and save consumers $1 to $4 billion annually from 2012 through 2042.

Promoting Energy Efficiency in California

The Attorney General also is working to promote energy efficiency in California. For example, in 2007, the California Public Utilities Commission required California’s investor owned utilities (IOUs) to prepare a statewide energy efficiency Strategic Plan for the period 2009-2020. The Attorney General filed comments on the preliminary plan submitted in February, 2008 by the IOUs. The Attorney General’s comments discussed a number of programs and priorities that could potentially increase energy savings and renewable energy generation in the State, and accelerate achieving the greenhouse gas reductions required by AB 32 and Executive Order S-03-05. Read the comment letter, pdf. The Attorney General filed a supplemental comment letter on July 31, 2008. Read the supplemental letter, pdf. The Attorney General advocated, for example, greater use of feed-in-tariffs, which the Commission is now undertaking. See Renewable Energy.

The Attorney General also advocates that local agencies consider energy efficiency in their permitting decisions, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Local governments must, for example, discuss a proposed project’s energy efficiency as set out in the CEQA Guidelines, Appendix F. Local governments can, in addition, adopt their own, more stringent, green building ordinances or include an optional “Energy Element” in their general plans.

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