The Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed a rule change that would allow appliance manufacturers to opt out of energy efficiency testing, seriously undermining U.S. efficiency standards, an advocacy group claims.
The DOE billed the proposal, which was published in the Federal Register on May 1, as an effort to streamline the process of issuing waivers for test procedures to manufacturers trying to bring new appliances to market. According to the DOE summary of the new rule, the current process results in “significant delays” for manufacturers.
But the executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP) said in an online post that the new rule could erode efficiency standards for a range of products, including air conditioners, refrigerators, light bulbs and electric motors.
Andrew deLaski said the DOE proposal caught efficiency advocates and manufacturers by surprise. In response, deLaski said, ASAP and nine other organizations requested a public meeting in which the DOE could explain the proposal and take comments. The department offered private meetings but refused to schedule a public session.
“[The] DOE had always allowed for public meetings on proposed test procedure changes for specific products in the past,” deLaski wrote. “Surely, a proposal that would affect every product’s test procedure and compliance would merit the enhanced scrutiny of a public meeting. To our shock, [the] DOE staff refused. Twice.”
The group has appealed, writing in a letter to the DOE that it was “stunned” by its decision. ASAP said a private session was “no substitute for open public meetings” that are subject to public notice and recorded with a transcript.
DeLaski asked the DOE to reverse its decision, noting the department is required to hold a public meeting whenever it proposed a test procedure change.
“The significance of the proposed rule is not in doubt,” the letter says. “Under the proposal, any company that applies for an interim waiver from any federal test procedure would be automatically granted that waiver if the agency does not affirmatively grant or deny it within thirty days.”
Manufacturers could effectively waive test requirements themselves, he said, “with no affirmative decision by [the] DOE, no notice to competitors or anyone else, and for an undetermined period of time.”
DeLaski’s letter was written on behalf of a number of groups, including the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the California Energy Commission, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Consumer Federation of America.
The DOE disputed deLaski’s claims and said in an email to The Hill that the proposal doesn’t amend any test procedures or make any exemptions.
“Rather,” the email said, “it streamlines the existing process for granting temporary waivers for innovative products that don’t fit within our prescribed test methods.”
The department said it would respond to the ASAP letter through the “appropriate, official channels to again offer a meeting.” The email added that the department would make staff available to meet with people who are affected by the rule change and had questions about its impact.