Obama Administration reconsiders efficiency standards

WASHINGTON — The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted the Obama Administration's request to reconsider weak efficiency standards of residential furnaces last month. The case was brought to the U.S. Department of Energy by several states, and environmental and consumer groups.

The states and nonprofit organizations sued the DOE after the agency issued a weak standard in November 2007. This final rule hardly changed the standards for gas furnaces relative to the original standards set by Congress in 1987.

The lawsuit was brought by the attorneys general of the states of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and California; the California Energy Commission; the City of New York; and the Natural Resources Defense Council, represented by their own attorneys and Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. The National Consumer Law Center intervened on behalf of its low-income clients, the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants and Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy.

In the court order issued, the Obama Administration commits to issuing a revised rule no later than May 1, 2011. Earlier action is possible since much of the work done for the 2007 rule can be updated for the new standard.

The order enables the agency to reconsider all aspects of the earlier final rule, including the strength of the standards and the implementation date. The order indicates the agency will consider regional standards. In new legislation enacted after the 2007 final rule was issued, Congress made clear that the DOE can establish regional standards for furnaces.

According to the DOE, energy, economic and carbon dioxide emission savings could have been achieved by setting a 90% national standard for gas furnaces or by applying a 90% standard to just the northern region of the country. The DOE found that a national 90% standard would save 3.21 quadrillion Btus of energy in more than 24 years, or enough to heat four out of every five U.S. homes for one year, and would net about $11 billion in consumer savings.

“Secretary Chu's decision to voluntarily reconsider the 2007 furnace standards is a huge step in the right direction for the Department of Energy," said Steven Nadel, executive Director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "It helps show that the agency in charge of U.S. energy policy is serious about finding ways to use American energy resources as efficiently as possible."

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