President to ease energy use rule
Clinton had raised efficiency standard for air conditioning
The Boston Globe, April 14, 2001
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to partially roll back a regulation requiring much higher efficiency standards for central air conditioning units and heat pumps, a shift on energy policy that critics said endangers the environment and the nation's power supply.
Instead of requiring air conditioning manufacturers to produce units that are 30 percent more efficient, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said yesterday that he would ask that units become only 20 percent more energy efficient by 2006.
While that would reduce the cost of new air conditioning units from what it would have been under the higher standard, it would also keep the amount of energy used to run the units above the levels set by the Clinton administration, environmental and energy specialists said.
The standard would not affect portable air conditioners placed in windows.
The new regulation, Abraham said, will seek to establish a ''realistic standard.'' Abraham chastised the Clinton administration for having placed ''too high a burden on consumers,'' who by his calculation would spend at least $122 less on an air conditioner once the higher standard is eliminated.
''At a time when we are all concerned about meeting our demand for electricity, our new proposed standard will provide a 20 percent increase in energy savings and help to dramatically reduce electricity demand during peak periods,'' Abraham said in a statement announcing the move. ''It is a realistic standard that achieves significant energy efficiency gains.''
Countered Andrew deLaski, head of the Boston-based Appliance Standards Awareness Project: ''It's horrible.''
According to deLaski and other environmentalists, reducing the Clinton standard would require the construction of 30 to 50 power plants - adding to the nation's energy woes as well as increasing the emissions that scientists believe lead to global warming.
The 30 percent efficiency standard, he said, was the ''single most significant thing done in the last eight years to lock in the long-term carbon greenhouse reductions.'' Overruling the regulation is the latest in a string of moves by the Bush administration to enrage environmentalists, but deLaski and others said it also ''defies common sense,'' given the need to conserve energy nationwide.
At the same time, the lower standard is expected to reduce consumers' energy bills, but by a smaller amount than the higher standard would. According to Dan Reicher, a visiting fellow at the World Resources Institute, consumers who now pay approximately $1,000 per summer on air conditioning costs would have paid $700 under the Clinton regulations. If the Bush proposal takes effect, they will pay approximately $800 in a summer.
''Consumers are going to feel the effects,'' Reicher, an opponent of the rollback, said.
Currently, all central home air conditioning units meet a seasonal energy efficiency ratio - known as SEER - of 10. The Clinton regulations would have increased the minimum to 13, while the standard proposed by Bush would be 12.
''Our principal focus during this review was to ensure that the air conditioner rule maximized energy efficiency while minimizing future price increases on consumers, particularly low-income consumers,'' Abraham said.
Although Bush has set efficiency standards on a number of appliances, the air conditioning standard is considered among the most critical because the units consume so much energy and have, in previous summers, led to blackouts in places where utilities could not generate enough power.
On Thursday, the Department of Energy said it would keep standards in place for washing machines and water heaters. The announcements came as officials continued a review, ordered by President Bush, of all the last-minute regulations issued at the end of Bill Clinton's term.
This story ran on page 2 of the Boston Globe on 4/14/2001.
WASHINGTON, April 10 — A review by Bush administration officials that could lead them to relax a new efficiency standard for central air-conditioners has been dealt a blow by an unlikely source: the nation's second-largest air-conditioner manufacturer.
The company, Goodman Manufacturing, which owns Amana and several less prominent brands, has sent a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham asking his department not to revise the standard, which was approved in the last days of the Clinton administration and would require new models to be 30 percent more efficient than the current minimum standard.
The industry's trade association, the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, has asked that the efficiency increase be cut to 20 percent. But environmentalists are hoping to preserve the standard, and they have been joined by some industrialists.
The 30 percent improvement would be "a very cost-effective way to reduce harmful air emissions and energy requirements, which as we know from California and other places is a critical issue now," Ben D. Campbell, executive vice president and general counsel of Goodman, said in a telephone interview.
Houston, Goodman's home city, has air pollution problems, Mr. Campbell pointed out, and air-conditioners that require less electricity would help address those problems by reducing the need for fuel that is used to generate power.
Twenty-four House Democrats, led by Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, have signed a letter urging President Bush not to roll back the new standard on air-conditioners, or those also under review on clothes washers and water heaters. "If we are indeed in an `energy crisis,' as you suggest," they wrote, "then nothing could be more shortsighted or ill advised than to roll back appliance efficiency standards that reduce America's consumption of energy."
But at the Energy Department, one staff member said officials were researching precisely what legal steps were needed to rescind the new standards.
The air-conditioner trade group maintains that cutting the 30-percent improvement to 20 percent would be "a smarter way to encourage conservation of electricity while easing the burden on all consumers, particularly low- and fixed-income consumers." Thirty percent more efficiency would make the new air-conditioners so expensive that homeowners would keep older, less efficient models, the group says.
Further, said Ed Dooley, a spokesman for the trade association, to make the machines more efficient, manufacturers make them larger, with bigger heat-exchange surfaces. For the outdoor part of the air-conditioner, size is usually not a problem, Mr. Dooley said, but some houses put the indoor coil in a closet built around the unit.
"That will be a retrofit nightmare for some folks," he said.
Industry analysts say Goodman, which sells under its own name as well as the names Amana, Janitrol and GMC, makes a relatively large number of high-efficiency machines. But Mr. Campbell said the company was taking its position simply because "we feel this is the right thing to do."
Along with Goodman, second only to Carrier among makers of air- conditioners, some state regulators also favor the strict standard. One backer is Patrick Wood III, chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, whom Mr. Bush recently chose to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.