Bush Administration Proceeds with Rollback of Energy-Saving Standard for Air Conditioners


Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Andrew deLaski, 617-363-9470 or
David Goldstein, NRDC, 415-264-4433 or 415-777-0220
Mel Hall Crawford, Consumer Federation of America, 202-387-6121

Step Backward Would Require Dozens of New Power Plants, Increase Costs and Pollution

Consumer and Environmental Coalition Decries Action

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A consumer, environmental, state government and utility coalition strongly criticized the Bush Administration for its proposal, published today, to roll back new energy efficiency standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps. The Bush proposal would weaken previously issued final standards that would help address the nation's energy problems, save consumers money, and reduce pollution.

"This rollback defies common sense," said David Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. "The President and his energy advisers still have not learned that improving energy efficiency is the cheapest and cleanest way to attack our nation's energy problems."

Today's official action withdraws standards finalized by the Clinton administration in January that increased the minimum central air conditioner and heat pump efficiency standard from the currently effective Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 10, established in 1987, to SEER 13. Today's proposal, if finalized, would weaken the new standard by one-third to SEER 12. The new standard would become effective in 2006.

"On a hot summer day, air conditioners can account for 30% to 50% of all power used," said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, a consumer, environmental, utility and state government coalition. "Easing this standard will force the nation to foot the bill for dozens of additional power plants and increase power plant pollution on the summer days when air quality problems are already at their worst."

Based on analysis of Energy Department data by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the rollback will increase electric demand by 18,000 megawatts, an amount equal to the output of 60 power plants by 2030. Consumers will pay another $1.3 billion per year in utility bills to run air conditioners and global warming carbon pollution from power plants would increase by three million metric tons per year, an amount equal to the output of about 1.5 million cars. Power plant pollution that contributes to summer haze, soot, smog and acid rain also would increase.

The administration proceeded with the rollback, first signaled in April, despite recent administration efforts to depict its energy policy as supportive of improved energy efficiency and conservation.

"This action demonstrates once again that the Bush energy policy is all about increasing profits for energy companies at the expense of consumers," said David B. Goldstein, energy program director at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "The President and Vice President talk about conservation, but their administration's actions belie their words."

"The administration creates more demand for fossil fuels with one policy and then turns around and tells the nation we must open our last wilderness areas to gas and oil drilling to address a long-term energy supply problem" said Goldstein. "Poll after poll has shown that Americans think energy efficiency and conservation should be the first priority in solving our energy problems, but the administration insists on following the priorities of the gas and oil developers rather than the public."

Two air conditioner manufacturers, Goodman Manufacturing of Houston, Texas which makes Amana, Janitrol, GmC, and Goodman appliances, and Goettl Air Conditioning of Phoenix, Arizona, have urged the administration to keep the stronger standard. Carrier Corporation, Trane Company, Lennox International, and Rheem, Inc. lobbied for the rollback.

"This rollback is bad news for consumers of all income levels," said Mel Hall-Crawford, special projects manager for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA). "With energy costs hitting consumers in the pocketbook harder than ever, it's counter-productive to rollback a standard that will help reduce future energy bills."

According to ACEEE, the SEER 13 standard would increase the price of a typical new central air conditioner by about $170, but reduce costs for a typical household by about $50 per year, thereby paying for itself in a little more than three years. Central air conditioners typically last eighteen years.

Manufacturers have successfully marketed SEER 13 air conditioners, now considered "mid-efficiency" units, for more than a decade. The most efficient units available reach SEERs 16 and higher. The new standard, which applies to new air conditioners and heat pumps sold in the U.S., would become effective in 2006.

NRDC and CFA filed suit in federal court along with the Attorney Generals of New York, California and Connecticut challenging the rollback plans earlier this summer.

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The Appliance Standards Awareness Project is dedicated to increasing understanding of and support for national appliance and equipment energy efficiency standards. ASAP is sponsored by leading environmental groups, consumer groups and state government and utilities.