Setback Could Set the Stage for Higher Department of Energy Standards
by Kit Kennedy, NRDC, via Switchboard
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has just retreated on important new energy efficiency standards for natural gas furnaces that were scheduled to go into effect in May and would have saved Americans an estimated $10.7 billion in lower heating bills over the next three decades.
By undoing these standards that were supported by manufacturers, consumers and efficiency advocates, states, and many utilities, American households are destined to waste more natural gas and money. In terms of energy, these standards would have saved 31 billion therms of natural gas over the next 30 years – enough to heat 62 million typical U.S. homes for a year. And the standards would have avoided the emission of somewhere between 81 to 130 million metric tons of global warming carbon pollution over the next three decades – that’s equivalent to the pollution generated by thirty or so coal-fired power plants.
Energy efficiency standards require our appliances and heating and cooling systems to operate efficiently while still providing the same or greater level of performance and comfort. DOE’s appliance efficiency program has a long record of success. Unfortunately, sometimes we encounter a setback, which is what happened Friday with the Department of Energy’s action in an ongoing lawsuit. In a motion filed in a legal challenge, DOE asked the court to “vacate” – or undo – these furnace efficiency standards, so that it can go back to the drawing board and redo them from scratch.
Importantly, consumer and low-income consumer groups agree that this is a setback. “The Department of Energy’s retreat from long overdue natural gas furnace efficiency standards is bad news for consumers. Strong efficiency standards reduce winter heating bills, helping all families but especially those who have the least means to stay warm and save money,” according to National Consumer Law Center attorney Olivia Wein.
DOE couldn’t have chosen a worse moment to turn the clock back on natural gas efficiency. Just last week, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration affirmed that 2012 was the hottest year ever in the continental United States, and the destructive impacts of global warming on communities and public health keep adding up, especially in light of Superstorm Sandy. Moreover, concerns over the environmental and public health risks of under-regulated fracking continue to multiply. If DOE succeeds in undoing these standards, it needs to sets things right quickly by setting new furnace efficiency standards at the same or stronger levels.
Here’s the story.