New Vermont Law Shows How States Can Protect National Efficiency Standards

Posted on May 16, 2017 by

Vermont has a reputation for innovative energy policy. Today, Governor Phil Scott continued that tradition by signing a law that protects against rollbacks of federal appliance energy efficiency standards. House Bill H.411, introduced by Representative Marcia Gardner and championed by Representative Curtis McCormack and Senator Christopher Bray, passed with strong support from Republican, Democratic, and Independent Vermont lawmakers. At a time of uncertainty about Washington’s direction on energy efficiency policy, passing this protective law makes it clear that Vermont, and hopefully the nation, will not go backward when it comes to saving energy. 

Historically, federal energy efficiency standards (most of which started out as state standards in places like Vermont) have enjoyed broad, bipartisan support. But the shifting and chaotic political environment in Washington, DC, has created an opening for those who would seek to weaken the national energy efficiency standards program, or even to remove standards for some products. 

Efficiency standards for energy-using products save energy. They also reduce consumer and business energy bills. The impact of standards on the US economy has been profound. In 2016, total national annual energy consumption was about the same as it was in the year 2000, despite a 30% increase in US annual GDP during that 16-year period. Many factors and policies have helped make the US economy much more energy efficient, but it’s clear that energy efficiency standards have played an important role. Saving energy also means reduced burning of coal, oil, and natural gas, which translates into reduced emissions of pollution into the environment.

Every state benefits from national energy standards. Today’s standards save the average Vermont household about $555 per year and save Vermont businesses a total of about $47 million annually. (ASAP’s recent report estimated the per-household and statewide benefits from national standards. Fact sheets for each state are available here.) 

The new Vermont law works very simply. It adopts all federal lighting and appliance energy efficiency standards as Vermont state standards. In general, federal efficiency standards preempt state efficiency standards, so the Vermont law provides that the state will not enforce these new standards unless they are “withdrawn, repealed or otherwise voided” at the federal level. Standards protected by the new Vermont law include all rules on the federal books as of January 17, 2017, including ones that have yet to take effect, like the light bulb standards slated to take effect in 2020. These light bulb standards, enacted by Congress in 2007, are the next step in an energy-efficient lighting transition that is driving huge energy and dollar savings.  Vermont’s new law ensures the state will continue to realize these tremendous benefits from standards.

The benefits of  H.411 extend beyond Vermont’s borders. California already has similar protective provisions in place and other states may follow suit. Manufacturers and retailers usually prefer a uniform national energy efficiency standard to a patchwork of state standards, which can complicate their businesses.  The Vermont bill sends a powerful message: If national standards go away, Vermont – with California and probably other states – will step into the breach and continue to use this proven tool to protect consumers and the environment. By stepping into this role, Vermont has taken the lead in protecting widely supported, common sense national energy efficiency standards.