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Green Building News

President Obama Orders Energy Department to Raise Appliance Efficiency Standards

President Barack Obama has ordered the U.S. Department of Energy to establish tougher energy efficiency standards for dishwashers, lamps, and microwave ovens.
Image Credit: Martin Holladay

A Strong Response to DOE’s Do-Nothing Legacy

WASHINGTON, DC — President Obama has ordered the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to enact higher efficiency standards for a list of appliances no later than August 2009. According to the Associated Press (AP), the list includes residential dishwashers, lamps, ranges and ovens, microwave ovens, commercial air-conditioning equipment, commercial boilers, and beverage vending machines.

Obama reinforced his emphasis on new appliance standards with a visit to DOE headquarters, where he explained, “This will save consumers money, this will spur innovation, and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy. We’ll save through these simple steps over the next 30 years the amount of energy produced over a two-year period by all the coal-fired power plants in America.”

The DOE is required by law to establish and regularly update energy-efficiency standards for appliances. For years, the DOE has ignored mandates originally established by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 and amended by the National Appliance Conservation Act of 1987 and the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The DOE’s refusal to comply with Congressional mandates has long frustrated energy-efficiency experts, who note that the DOE’s delays in establishing cost-effective improvements in appliance efficiency standards waste energy and hurt consumers. The DOE’s flagrant recalcitrance has been repeatedly challenged in court by several plaintiffs, including New York’s former attorney general, Elliot Spitzer, who sued the DOE over its delays in 2005. Thirteen state attorneys general joined Spitzer’s lawsuit, which was settled in 2006 when the DOE agreed to abide by a new standard-setting schedule.

In 2005, Congress ordered the DOE explain its delays in complying with appliance efficiency mandates. In response, the DOE issued a report, “Energy Conservation Standards Activities,” on January 31, 2006. The report admitted, “Deficiencies in the review and concurrence process are significant and the process must be reformed.” Reflecting on the DOE’s promise to do better, Andrew deLaski, the executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, noted, “DOE’s failure to live up to previous schedules has eroded confidence in its ability to meet deadlines.”

According to the AP report, “The fact that Obama is getting directly involved in speeding up household appliance standards underscores how much he wants to show quick, clear progress on energy. … Laws on the books already require new efficiency standards for household and commercial appliances. But they have been backlogged in a tangle of missed deadlines, bureaucratic disputes, and litigation. In essence, Obama’s intent is to say that legal deadlines must be met, with priority being given to those standards that are likely to yield the best pocketbook savings for consumers, according to administration aides familiar with the details of Obama’s decision.”


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