BRATTLEBORO -- Under threat of legal action, the U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to update energy efficiency standards for a number of appliances.
On Aug. 9, the office of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced it had reached an agreement with DOE that commits the Department to a timetable for updating overdue energy efficiency standards for four common commercial appliances.
Schneiderman's office led a coalition of 10 other states and organizations, which included the Vermont Attorney General's Office.
"The Attorney General is pleased that the U.S. Department of Energy has committed to meeting a schedule for updating energy efficiency standards for four common appliances," said Thea Schwartz, a Vermont assistant attorney general.
Schwartz told the Reformer the commitment will result in a reduction in smog and climate change pollution and fits well with work the state has been doing to reduce its carbon footprint.
The agreement was reached after DOE missed legal deadlines set by the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act for revising efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers, metal halide lamps, electric motors and commercial refrigeration equipment.
Strengthening the standards will result in substantial cuts in air, water and climate change pollution and save businesses and consumers across the country an estimated $156 million per month, and $3.8 billion per year by 2035.
"Energy efficiency is recognized as one of the best ways to cut pollution, fight climate change and save consumers money,"stated Schneiderman in a press release announcing the agreement. "Updating the energy-efficiency standards for these widely used commercial appliances is not only a legal requirement, it will result in less pollution and save businesses and consumers more than $150 million each month. With this agreement, DOE has committed to adopting common-sense standards that fight pollution and keep money in people's pockets."
DOE has until January 2014 to update its standards for metal halide lamps; February 2014 for commercial refrigeration equipment; April 2014 for walk in coolers and freezers; and May 2014 for electric motors.
In the case of walk-in coolers and freezers and metal halide lamps, EPCA required that updated standards be in place 18 months ago, by Jan. 1, 2012. The act further required updated standards for commercial refrigeration equipment and electric motors to be in place Jan. 1, 2013, seven months ago.
If DOE doesn't follow through on its commitment, Schneiderman's coalition reserves the right to take legal action under EPCA to force DOE to update the standards if it fails to meet any of the deadlines.
Walk-in coolers and refrigerators are spaces large enough for people to enter and are used for temporary storage of refrigerated or frozen food. Commercial refrigeration equipment includes a diverse mix of refrigerators and freezers, including display cases commonly used in supermarkets and convenience stores. Metal halide lamps are fixtures commonly used in large spaces such as industrial buildings, sports stadiums, gymnasiums and big-box retail stores and as street lights. Electric motors include an array of motors of varying sizes that run pumps, fans, blowers, compressors and other commercial equipment.
If the standards are met, the cumulative energy savings by 2035 would be enough to supply all the energy needs in the United States for three weeks. Additionally, stronger standards would cut tens of millions of pounds annually of the pollution that contributes to smog, soot and acid rain, and reduce climate change pollution by more than 26 million metric tons annually -- the equivalent of retiring at least six coal-burning power plants.
Joining New York and Vermont in the agreement were the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington, the California Energy Commission and the Corporation Counsel of New York City.
As recently as 2007, as many as 34 deadlines were missed, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report.
The Obama administration recently finalized standards for two appliances that had missed deadlines: distribution transformers and microwave ovens. It is also late in presenting rules for battery chargers and certain incandescent reflector lamps.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.