Challenge to federal Department of Energy delays
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson and 10 other states announced today a challenge to the Trump Administration’s efforts to delay new energy efficiency standards that would otherwise result in significant savings for consumers and reduce environmental pollution.
The U.S. Department of Energy, under the Energy Policy Conservation Act, is responsible for setting minimum energy conservation standards for approximately 60 categories of appliances and equipment. According to the Department’s website, “standards saved American consumers $63 billion on their utility bills in 2015, and cumulatively have helped the United States avoid 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions.”
Under the new Administration, however, the Department delayed publishing or making effective several new efficiency standards that have been in the works for years. These include new standards for ceiling fans, walk-in coolers and freezers, power supplies, portable air conditioners, commercial boilers and compressors.
Washington and the other states challenge the delays on two fronts. The states filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to review the Administration’s delay of the ceiling fan standards, and they served notice on the Department of Energy of their intent to sue over the Department’s delay in publishing new standards associated with the other five products.
According to the Department’s own estimates, the standards would combine to eliminate emissions of 292 million tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, 734 thousand tons of the pollution that creates soot and smog, 1.2 million tons of the potent climate change pollutant methane, and over 1,000 pounds of highly-toxic mercury, over a 30-year period.
“The Trump Administration has no legal right to stand in the way of these important efficiency standards,” Ferguson said. “The benefits to consumers and the environment are too important to allow baseless delays.”
“This is an important first step in what may be many steps to protect the health of our state’s residents. We will do what we have to at the state level to ensure continued progress to reduce carbon pollution,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said.
The new standards for ceiling fans alone could reduce electrical consumption by about 200 billion kilowatt hours over the next three decades, saving consumers anywhere from $4.5 billion to $12.1 billion in energy costs.
Energy began the rule making process for new ceiling fan efficiency standards in 2012. The Department published a final rule on Jan. 19 of this year, but the incoming Administration issued a memorandum the next day delaying the effective date of various rules for 60 days for further review. Five days before the new March 20 effective date, the Energy further delayed the standards until Sept. 30, claiming that “the newly appointed Secretary of Energy … was unable to accomplish the review and consideration during the original postponement.”
In their petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the states accuse the federal government of violating the Energy Policy Conservation Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by delaying the new standards.
The new standards for walk-in coolers and freezers, power supplies, portable air conditioners, commercial boilers and compressors have been publicly posted by Energy for error-correction review — a standard step in the rulemaking process — but have not been submitted to the Office of Federal Register for publication, despite the fact that the 45-day deadline for error correction has passed.
Correctable errors do not encompass attempts to “revisit and re-argue issues that have already been raised and addressed during the rulemaking process,” according to the Department’s rules. Rather, the correction process is only intended to address typographical, calculation or numbering mistakes, or “an aspect of the regulatory text of a rule that is inconsistent with what the Secretary intended regarding the rule at the time of posting.”
As with ceiling fans, the rulemaking process for these products began several years ago. The new standards would result in significant reductions in energy consumption and pollution emissions. For these five products combined, the new standards would reduce electricity consumption by about 240 billion kilowatt hours over the next three decades — the annual electricity use of about 19 million homes — saving consumers at least $4.7 billion in energy costs.
The Administration has 60 days to publish the new standards, or the states will file suit over the Department’s violation of the Energy Policy Conservation Act.
In addition to Washington, the coalition of states, led by New York, includes California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont, in addition to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the City of New York. The state of Maryland joined the group in its 60-day notice of intent to sue.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov