The Biden administration has missed year-end deadlines to completely roll back Trump-era energy efficiency standards, highlighting the volume of work challenging the Energy Department’s staff as it confronts a backlog of appliance reviews.
Final actions will now fall to 2022 for undoing Trump-era standards for light bulbs, clothes washers and dryers, and dishwashers—standards that some industry groups have welcomed, but that efficiency advocates have criticized as too lax.
And the DOE still has to finalize the second part of the Process Rule, a 40-year-old set of regulations that underpin the agency’s decision-making on appliance standards. The department finalized a rule in November that partially restored regulations that were gutted by the Trump administration.
The rollbacks come on top of the mountainous backlog of appliance standard reviews left by the previous administration, worrying some groups that want stronger rules.
“If they aren’t planning to get these done by their own deadlines, what’s that mean for updating dozens of standards ahead?” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “I’m concerned.”
The department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is required to review appliance standards every six years. But when President Joe Biden took office, the agency had missed legal deadlines for 28 product standards, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. The organization seeks to advance tougher appliance, equipment, and lighting standards.
The administration has a total of 45 standards to work through by the end of its first term in January 2025, deLaski said.
Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to consider rolling back or revising Trump-era rules that conflict with his climate objectives. The order instructed agencies to draft a list of actions to be “completed” by Dec. 31, 2021. In February, DOE identified 13 efficiency rules it would review.
The department has followed Biden’s executive order by finalizing eight efficiency rules and published proposals on the remaining five, a DOE spokesperson said in a statement to Bloomberg Law. The agency didn’t make anyone available for an interview.
“The department will continue work with all parties to move these rules through the regulatory process that will provide energy-efficient products that meet consumer needs and help reach our climate goals,” the spokesperson said.
Reducing Household Bills
Six environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defenses Council, also demanded faster action on rolling back Trump-era energy efficiency standards in a Dec. 17 letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
Timely completion of new and updated efficiency standards for appliances and equipment could reduce annual household utility bills by $100 on average by 2030, with savings increasing to $350 annually by 2050, the groups estimated.
“The benefits of this program are too great for any further delay,” the groups wrote in the letter.
And stronger appliance standards could remove carbon emissions equivalent to at least 13 coal-fired power plants by 2050, the appliance standards group estimated in a report last year.
Some Trump-era standards—like those for dishwashers and shower heads—didn’t come at the behest of manufacturers, who now find some of the Biden administration’s actions welcome or acceptable.
November’s Process Rule changes “largely satisfied” the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, said Alex Boesenberg, the group’s director of regulatory affairs. The final rule eliminated a strict minimum energy savings threshold to set a standard, loosened requirements to use manufacturer-developed testing procedures, and moves to reinstate a negotiation process that could lead to quicker standards.
The department struck an acceptable balance to maintain its internal flexibility,” Boesenberg said.
Others face industry opposition and could prompt pushback.
On Dec. 21, the DOE finalized an action to undo a Trump action in January that withdrew stronger standards for gas furnaces, water heaters, and boilers in homes and commercial buildings. The products are among the highest energy users in many homes and buildings.
The Trump rule followed a petition from the American Gas Association, which represents natural gas delivery companies, and other industry groups.
The Biden rule could cause “significant complications for millions of homes and businesses by limiting their options when they seek to replace furnaces and water heaters, leading to unintended consequences such as lower overall energy efficiency, greater consumer costs and higher greenhouse gas emissions,” the association said in a Dec. 30 statement.
“AGA supports energy efficiency standards that are technologically feasible and economically justified,” the group said, adding that natural gas utilities have invested more than $3.8 million a day in energy efficiency programs.