States Sue to Preserve High National Appliance Efficiency Standards

Standards Would Aid Conservation Goals To Help Californians

Tuesday, June 19, 2001
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(SACRAMENTO) – California Attorney General Bill Lockyer today with the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut joined national environmental and consumer groups in a legal fight to preserve the high national energy efficiency standards for appliances that are being delayed and weakened by the Bush Administration.

"California is among the leading states when it comes to conserving energy and Californians are working even harder to reach new energy-saving goals," Attorney General Bill Lockyer said. "Instead of helping, the Bush Administration is making it harder for California in the current energy crisis by ignoring or trying to eliminate the toughened efficiency standards for residential air conditioners."

At issue are federal requirements to make central air conditioning units at least 30 percent more efficient. The higher standards were developed during the administrations of former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and Bill Clinton. Among other things, the standards that were to take effect in February 2001 require residential air conditioners to operate at a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 13 – raising the minimum from 10 SEER – which would save California consumers an estimated $103 million to $207 million in energy costs during the 18-year average life of a central air conditioner. The high standards are supported by major manufacturers of central air conditioning systems, including Goodman Global Holding, the second-largest residential air conditioner manufacturer in the United States.

Signed by President Reagan, the federal law establishing the process for the high efficiency standards prohibits the federal government from rolling back or weakening the energy efficiency standard. However, acting on a directive from the White House, the federal Department of Energy twice postponed implementation of the energy efficiency rules without providing for public notice or comment. On April 13, the Department of Energy announced it would propose a significantly weaker energy efficiency standard. Under the Bush administration's lower efficiency target, energy and cost savings and pollution reductions would be one-third less than the standard that was to take effect already this year.

"This is not the time to retreat from the higher efficiency standards already in place," Lockyer said, noting that most homes are being equipped with central air conditioning systems.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer added: "This is a time when the federal government should be doing everything possible to encourage the efficient use of energy. Instead, the Bush administration has abandoned one of the most effective ways to conserve energy. With this lawsuit, we are seeking to compel the administration to adopt a more forward-looking course that will help lower energy bills and reduce air pollution."

The lawsuit by Lockyer, Spitzer and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was filed in the United States Court for the Southern District New York in Manhattan. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Consumer Federation of America, the Association for Energy Affordability and the Public Utility Law Project have filed a similar lawsuit.

"At a time when states are experiencing or worried about brownouts, when consumers are paying high utility prices, and when power plants are a major source of air pollution, the Department of Energy's attempt to delay and weaken energy efficiency standards for air conditioners is not only illegal, but staggeringly short-sighted," said Ashok Gupta, director of the Air and Energy Program at the National Resources Defense Council.

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