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DOE finalizes new energy efficiency rule process to chagrin of advocates

The U.S. Department of Energy has finalized a new rulemaking process for setting appliance efficiency standards that opponents say will make establishing new standards more difficult.

The DOE on Jan. 15 announced the final rulemaking process regulation and a separate rule to evaluate the economic justification of new or amended energy conservation standards.

The updated procedures "will make substantial improvements to DOE's internal framework for establishing energy efficiency regulations for appliances," U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said. "Clearer energy efficiency standards will provide certainty to manufacturers, allowing them to produce products that will save consumers money on a variety of appliances."

The DOE said it gathered feedback from a wide range of stakeholders on the process rule, which the agency has not updated since 1996. Among other things, the new rule defines standards with "significant" energy savings as those that save 0.3 quads of site energy over 30 years or, if less than that amount, a 10% improvement over existing standards. The definition aims to provide certainty around a congressional mandate for the DOE to regulate appliances only when doing so would save a significant amount of energy.

Under the new rulemaking process, the DOE must also create final test procedures 180 days before proposing a new energy conservation standard. Another key pillar of the rule would codify private sector consensus standards for testing appliance efficiency levels, a change the DOE said will allow manufacturers to test their products at lower costs than if those companies relied on separate DOE testing metrics.

"When DOE-recognized, consensus-based bodies comprised of industry, advocates, and other stakeholders reach consensus on a test procedure that meets statutory requirements, the process rule requires DOE to adopt that consensus procedure as the DOE test procedure," the agency said in a press release.

Some energy efficiency advocates blasted the rule. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy called the regulation "yet another attack on energy-saving policies" that will "make it much more difficult to set new energy efficiency standards for common appliances and equipment — from refrigerators, dishwashers and home furnaces to commercial air conditioners and industrial motors."

The minimum savings threshold will "make new standards for many products illegal, even if the standards have no cost," according to the council. The group also raised concerns with what it said was "increased deference" to industry-developed test procedures and standards and the potential for the DOE to preempt state appliance efficiency standards without issuing federal requirements.

Furthermore, the rule would require the DOE to restart the standards rulemaking process whenever more products are included within the scope of a regulation or when the test procedure is amended, revisions that the council said could force a choice between more accurate test procedures and the inclusion of regulated products and more delay.

Along with finalizing its new process rule, the DOE proposed to alter how the department establishes or amends energy conservation standards for consumer products and certain types of industrial equipment. The proposal would revise the agency's process rule for consumer product conservation standards to require the DOE to conduct a comparative analysis of the relative costs and benefits of proposed energy conservation standard levels in order to more reliably determine if a standard is "economically justified."

However, the current "walk-down" process for new or amended energy conservation standards will remain unchanged in the DOE's final process rule until the public can consider the Jan. 15 proposal.