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Why it Matters
The Department of Energy (DOE) sets energy efficiency standards for many consumer products. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act directs DOE to establish energy conservation standards for most major household appliances and many types of commercial equipment. DOE’s energy conservation program includes testing, labeling, and enacting energy conservation standards, as well as product certification and enforcement. These standards are meant to reduce energy demand and increase energy efficiency. The standards also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy demand and use.
Under President Trump, DOE declined to set compliance dates for certain standards, modified other standards, and proposed changes to its process for developing standards and testing equipment. (These actions are organized by category of appliance or equipment below). President Biden has now ordered DOE to consider suspending, revising, or rescinding the Trump-era rules by March 2021.
Aug. 2016 DOE issues its semi-annual report to Congress, describing recently published and upcoming efficiency standards. DOE publishes a report every six months, as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Dec. 2016 DOE posts final energy efficiency standards for uninterruptible power supplies, walk-in freezers, portable air conditioners, air compressors, and commercial boilers. DOE then has 45 days to publish confirmation of the standards’ effective date in the Federal Register, which would finalize them, but has failed to do so for each of these.
Jan. 6, 2017 DOE posts final energy efficiency standards for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps. DOE then has 45 days to publish confirmation of the standards’ effective date in the Federal Register, which would finalize them, but has failed to do so.
Jan. 19, 2017 DOE posts final energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans. DOE then has 45 days to publish confirmation of the standards’ effective date in the Federal Register, which would finalize them, but has failed to do so.
Jan. 19, 2017 DOE publishes a final rule defining Energy Conservation Standards for General Service Lamps, including incandescent light bulbs in the definition and requiring them to meet a higher efficiency standard alongside compact fluorescent and LED bulbs. The standards will be effective Jan. 1, 2020.
energy efficiency standards program
DOE did not publish its required semi-annual reports on efficiency standards to Congress in 2017, it generally publishes them in February and August. It has since published three reports in Feb. 2018, Dec. 2018, and July 2019.
Nov. 28, 2017 DOE issues a request for information and notice of public meeting. Citing Executive Orders 13771 (Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs) and 13777 (Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda), DOE seeks “comments and information from interested parties to assist DOE in identifying potential modifications to its ‘Process Rule’ for the development of appliance standards.” The public meeting is held on January 9, 2018.The comment period for this is open until March 5, 2018.
Nov. 28, 2017 DOE issues a request for information on an evaluation of “the potential advantages and disadvantages of additional flexibilities” in the appliance energy efficiency standards program. They expressed particular interest in market-based options. This comment period has closed.
May 1, 2019 DOE proposes a new process for energy efficiency testing of consumer products and some industrial equipment. Under the proposed system, the Department would automatically grant an interim testing waiver to any company that does not receive a response from DOE within 30 days to its proposal for a waiver from efficiency testing.
May 10, 2019 Environmental organizations send a letter to DOE requesting a public hearing on the proposed energy efficiency testing waiver process. DOE denies this request on May 15, 2019.
June 11, 2019 Environmental organizations send another letter to DOE to appeal the Department’s denial of their request for a public hearing.
Jan. 15, 2020 DOE releases its final “process rule” which changes how the agency conducts rulemaking for new or revised energy conservation standards for consumer products and certain equipment. DOE has said the updated process would “increase transparency, accountability, and regulatory certainty for the American people.” Others say that the new rule raises the bar for rules by setting an energy-saving “threshold” that updated or new rules must meet and it gives the industry too much power over the test procedures to determine standards.
April 14, 2020 Environmental and consumer groups, led by NRDC, file a lawsuit challenging the final process rule. A coalition of states, led by California, files a similar lawsuit and the cases are consolidated. California v. DOE, No. 20-71068 (9th Cir.).
Aug. 10, 2020 A coalition of 15 states, the District of Colombia, and New York City file a notice of intent to sue DOE for failing to update energy efficiency standards for 25 products according to mandatory deadlines under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. DOE has 60 days to take action on the outstanding standards before the coalition can sue the agency. Environmental and consumer groups, including NRDC, Sierra Club, and Consumer Federation of America, also file a notice of intent to sue, referencing 26 products with outstanding deadlines for updated standards. These groups estimate that updating just 15 of the standards “would save U.S. consumers at least $22 billion annually on their utility bills and prevent almost 80 million metric tons of carbon pollution— equal to the annual tailpipe emissions from more than 17 million cars—by 2035.”
Aug. 19, 2020 DOE finalizes a new rule, known as the “economic justification rule.” The rule changes the way costs are considered during the standard development process. Previously, DOE would set standards that provide maximum energy savings and adjust them as needed to arrive at a level where costs to manufacturers and consumers could be justified. Now, DOE will simultaneously consider costs as it sets the standards.
Oct. 16, 2020 Environmental and consumer groups petition the Ninth Circuit to set aside DOE’s “economic justification rule,” published on Aug. 19, 2020. The groups argue that this new rule will harm consumers and exacerbate climate change by making it more difficult to set higher energy standards for consumer products. NRDC v. Brouillette, No. 20-73091 (9th Cir.).
Oct. 30, 2020 Environmental and consumer groups sue DOE for its delay in updating energy efficiency standards for consumer and commercial products. The groups say that this delay is in violation of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and has led to increased pollution and energy bills. NRDC v. Brouillette, No. 1:20-cv-09127 (S.D.N.Y.).
Dec. 11, 2020 DOE finalizes a new rule (“Test Procedure Interim Waiver Process”) requiring the agency to issue decisions on interim waivers from DOE testing methods within 45 business days of receiving an application. If DOE doesn’t meet the 45-day deadline, the interim waiver is automatically granted.
Jan. 19, 2021 A group of 15 states, New York City, and the District of Columbia files suit against DOE over the Test Procedure rule. New York v. Dept. of Energy, No. 21-00107 (2nd. Cir.).
Jan. 31, 2017 DOE publishes a notice in the Federal Register that it is delaying the final ceiling fan standard effective date for 60 days in order to review the rule. On the same day, DOE publishes a notice that it is delaying the walk-in freezer standards effective date to March 21, 2017.
March 31, 2017 Nine states, New York City, and a Pennsylvania regulator, petition the Second Circuit over the Trump Administration’s failure to finalize the ceiling fan efficiency standards.
May 24, 2017 DOE finalizes the original ceiling fan rule, including original effective dates, without change.
Air Compressors, uninterruptible power supplies, walk-in coolers & freezers, portable air conditioners, AND commercial boilers
March 21, 2017 DOE further delays the walk-in freezer effective date to June 26, 2017.
April 3, 2017 Two environmental groups and a consumer group notify DOE they will sue in 60 days over its failure to finalize standards for compressors, uninterruptible power supplies, walk-in coolers and freezers, portable air conditioners, and commercial packaged boilers. The groups are the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Consumer Federation of America.
June 13, 2017 Washington, California, and nine other states petition the US District Court for the Northern District of California over DOE’s failure to finalize efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, air compressors, commercial boilers, walk-in freezers, and uninterruptible power supplies. A coalition of environmental groups also files suit over these same standards on this day.
July 10, 2017 DOE finalizes standards for walk-in freezers.
Feb. 15, 2018 The US District Court for the Northern District of California rules DOE must publish standards for portable air conditioners, air compressors, commercial packaged boilers, and uninterruptible power supplies within 28 days. The court then gives DOE another 28 days on March 14, 2018 so that DOe can file a new motion to claim harm to manufacturers or file for a stay from the Ninth Circuit.
Oct. 10, 2019 The Ninth Circuit rules that DOE must publish 2016 efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies, air compressors, and commercial packaged boilers. The ruling is a victory for the 11 states, City of New York, and environmental groups who sued DOE, arguing that the now 2.5-year delay in publication was unwarranted.
Jan. 10, 2020 DOE publishes four final rules that either establish or amend the energy conservation standards for commercial boilers, portable air conditioners, industrial air compressors, and uninterruptible power supplies, as mandated by the Ninth Circuit.
March 9-10, 2020 Two trade associations file lawsuits against DOE for finalizing efficiency standards for commercial boilers, arguing that the regulations don’t save that much power and aren’t cost-effective. The Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute file in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the American Public Gas Association file in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The cases have been consolidated and are now pending in the D.C. Circuit. Am. Public Gas Ass’n v. U.S. Dep’t of Energy, No. 20-1068 (D.C. Cir.).
April 8, 2020 California’s Attorney General leads a coalition of 12 attorneys general and the City of New York in filing to intervene in the industry challenge in order to defend DOE’s energy efficiency standard for commercial packaged boilers. The same coalition of environmental and consumer groups that sued and won the ruling in October 2019 also file a motion to intervene in the industry challenge to defend DOE’s standards (this time they are joined by the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants). Am. Public Gas Ass’n v. U.S. Dep’t of Energy, No. 20-1068 (D.C. Cir.).
residential central air conditioners and heat pumps
May 26, 2017 DOE finalizes the standards and sets compliance dates for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps. The final rule published on Jan. 6, 2017 became effective on May 8, 2017 and compliance with the standards will be required on Jan. 1, 2023.
Aug. 8, 2018 DOE submits a proposed rule revising energy efficiency standards for light bulbs to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The Obama administration adopted energy-use requirements for incandescent bulbs used in track and recessed lighting, bathroom vanities, and decorative fixtures like chandeliers. Incandescent light bulbs are less energy efficient than LED bulbs and last about one year compared with 10 years or longer for LED bulbs.
Feb. 6, 2019 DOE proposes a plan to roll back two rules, finalized in January 2017 to take effect January 2020, that expand the types of lighting subject to higher efficiency levels, effectively requiring the use of compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs rather than incandescent bulbs. One analysis from the Appliance Standards Awareness Project found these rules would save emissions equivalent to the emissions of more than 180 coal plants annually. DOE held a public meeting on Feb. 28, 2019 on this proposal.
Feb. 11, 2019 The notice of proposed rulemaking on energy conservation standards for lighting is published in the Federal Register and open for comment until May 3, 2019.
May 3, 2019 A coalition of 15 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City file comments opposing the proposed rulemaking to roll back the lighting efficiency standards.
Sep. 5, 2019 DOE publishes a final rule withdrawing the 2017 regulation that would have expanded energy efficiency standards to a wider range of light bulbs.
Sep. 5, 2019 In response to a statutory requirement to evaluate energy conservation standards for certain light bulbs, DOE announces its proposed determination that the energy efficiency standards for incandescent bulbs do not need to be amended. The proposal is open for comments until Nov. 4, 2019 and comments may be submitted here.
Nov. 4, 2019 Environmental and consumer advocacy groups file a lawsuit against DOE for its changes to federal lightbulb efficiency standards. NRDC v. U.S. Dep’t of Energy, No. 19-03658 (2nd Cir.). A coalition of states led by New York and California file a similar lawsuit. New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Energy, No. 19-03652 (2nd Cir.).
Dec. 20, 2019 DOE releases a final determination that declines to amend the energy efficiency standards for incandescent bulbs, effectively blocking the 2020 phaseout of all incandescent bulbs planned during the Obama administration. The determination is published in the Federal Register on Dec. 27, 2019.
Feb. 25, 2020 Environmental groups, consumer advocates, and states sue DOE for its final determination not to amend energy conservation standards for incandescent bulbs. The cases are Nat’l Res. Def. Council v. U.S. Dep’t of Energy, No. 20-00699 (2d Cir.); New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Energy, No. 20-00743 (2d Cir.).
FURNACES AND Water heaters
July 11, 2019 DOE releases a proposed interpretive rule that would require the Department to consider inefficient technologies in residential furnaces and commercial water heaters a “feature” within the meaning of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA). This would prevent DOE from setting an energy-saving standard that would eliminate inefficient furnaces in the future. This interpretive rule was proposed in response to a rulemaking petition submitted by the American Gas Association and other industry groups in an attempt to overturn a March 12, 2015 proposed energy conservation standard for residential furnaces.
Sep. 24, 2020 DOE supplements the proposed interpretive rule on furnaces and water heaters from July 2019. DOE requests comments on the potential feasibility, burdens, and other implications of its new approach. The proposal is open for comment until Oct. 26, 2020 and comments may be submitted here.
Jan. 15, 2021 DOE publishes the final rule adopting language in the proposed interpretive rule, finding that inefficient technologies are a “feature” under EPCA and thus cannot be eliminated by adopting an energy conservation standard. In the final rule, DOE also withdraws an Obama-era proposed rule and supplemental proposed rule for energy conservation standards for non-weatherized gas furnace and mobile home gas furnaces, as well as the Obama-era proposed rule for energy conservation standards for commercial water heating equipment.
July 16, 2019 DOE grants a petition from the Competitive Enterprise Institute to initiate a rulemaking for energy conservation standards for dishwashers. The proposal would define a new product class for residential dishwashers with a normal cycle time of less than one hour from washing through drying. The comment period runs for 90 days until Oct. 16, 2019.
Oct. 16, 2019 The attorneys general of 12 states, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York submit comments criticizing DOE’s proposed rule to create a new product class for dishwashers that complete a cycle in less than an hour. If finalized, current energy efficiency standards would not apply to this new class of dishwashers. The comments allege that the proposal violates EPCA’s anti-backsliding provision and misapplies the statute’s provision on creating new product classes.
Oct. 23, 2020 DOE releases its final rule for energy conservation standards for dishwashers. This new rule creates a third class of dishwashers that have cycle times of 60 minutes or less. While the rule’s proponents say that this is a victory for consumers, opponents argue that this change will do nothing to improve the standards for modern dishwashers.
Dec. 29, 2020 States, environmental groups and consumer advocates sue DOE, challenging the final rule that creates a new class of dishwashers for energy conservation standards. California v. DOE, No. 20-4285 (2nd Cir.); NRDC v. DOE, No. 20-4256 (2nd Cir.).
Aug. 13, 2020 DOE proposes a new rule to change the test procedure for showerheads and to revise the definition of a showerhead. Under the proposal, each nozzle in a showerhead with multiple nozzles would be considered a separate showerhead and “only of one of them would need to be turned on for testing.” DOE would then only measure part of the flow for compliance purposes. Critics of the proposal say that this change will waste water and lead to higher energy and water bills for consumers. DOE is also considering excluding certain types of showerheads from current energy conservation standards. Comments on the proposed rule are open until Sep. 14, 2020 and can be submitted here.
Oct. 16, 2020 Industry groups publicly oppose the proposed changes to the showerhead test procedure and definition.
Dec. 16, 2020 DOE finalizes a rule revising the definition of a showerhead so that the 2.5-gallon-per-minute limit from the Energy Policy and Conservation Act applies to individual showerheads rather than to multiple showerhead units as a whole. The rule is effective Jan. 15, 2021.
Washing Machines & Dryers
Aug. 13, 2020 DOE proposes a new rule that would create a product class for faster clothes washing machines and dryers. Much like the dishwasher proposal, creating a new product class will allow these faster washing machines and dryers to sidestep current energy efficiency standards. Comments on the proposed rule are open until Sep. 14, 2020 and can be submitted here.
Dec. 16, 2020 DOE finalizes a rule creating new product classes for clothes washing machines and dryers with shorter cycles (for top-loading washers and dryers with a normal cycle of less than 30 minutes, and for front-loading washers with a normal cycle of less than 45 minutes). Energy and water efficiency standards can be created for the new product classes in separate rulemakings. The rule is effective Jan. 15, 2021.
Jan. 19, 2021 A group of 15 states, New York City, and the District of Columbia files suit arguing DOE unlawfully created separate classes of washers and dryers that are exempt from existing energy efficiency standards. California v. Dept. of Energy, No. 21-00108 (2nd. Cir.).
May 27, 2019 Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signs a bill, AB54, into law to expand the types of bulbs required to meet efficiency rules by January 2020. Nevada is the fourth state, joining Vermont, California, and Washington, to adopt its own standards similar to regulations adopted under the Obama administration and proposed to be changed under the Trump administration. A similar bill is awaiting the governor’s signature in Colorado.
May 30, 2019 Colorado Governor Jared Polis signs HB19-1231 into law, setting water and energy efficiency standards for 16 products without federal requirements. Colorado’s law covers a range of appliances including light bulbs, portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies, and air compressors. Colorado becomes the fifth state to adopt stringent efficiency standards for appliances to balance out federal rollbacks.
June 26, 2019 Hawaii Governor Ige signs a bill, HB 556, into law to adopt state appliance energy efficiency standards for products without federal requirements. Hawaii is the sixth state, joining Nevada, Vermont, California, Washington, and Colorado, to adopt its own efficiency standards. Similar state standards are under discussion in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C.
Nov. 13, 2019 The California Energy Commission votes to adopt stronger energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs in the state to keep the more recent, lax federal standards from going into effect in CA. The standards survive a request for an injunction from industry groups on Dec. 31, 2019 and are allowed to go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. The industry groups later drop their case against California on Jan. 14, 2020.
Early Biden Actions
Jan. 20, 2021 President Biden issues an Executive Order requiring DOE to consider suspending, revising, or rescinding Trump-era appliance- and building-efficiency standards. In particular, President Biden instructs DOE to propose major revisions to the rule on energy conservation standards for consumer products and commercial/industrial equipment by March 2021; propose major revisions to the rule on energy conservation program appliance standards by March 2021; review DOE’s notice on energy efficiency improvements in the 2018 IECC by May 2021; and review DOE’s notice on building energy efficiency standards by May 2021.
March 16, 2021 12 state attorneys general file a petition for review challenging the Trump DOE’s interpretive rule regarding residential furnace and commercial water heater standards. The rule stated that inefficient technologies are a “feature” under EPCA, and thus cannot be eliminated by adopting an energy conservation standard. The AGs argue that the rule violates the new policies established in President Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order on protecting public health and the environment. State of New York, et al. v. DOE, [Docket No. Pending], (2d Cir.).