SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Leading a coalition of states and New York City, California sued the Trump administration Tuesday claiming the federal government has made alterations to energy conservation standards that hurt consumers and lead to more pollution.
The coalition, comprised of mostly Democratic-leaning states, sued the Department of Energy in the Ninth Circuit. They say the agency changed its Process Rule that creates a permissive atmosphere for companies to evade energy efficiency standards when manufacturing items like home appliances and light bulbs.
“The Trump Administration is irresponsibly rewriting a rule that helps consumers save money and decreases pollution to our environment,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Americans sheltering in place are already struggling with higher electricity bills, they shouldn’t have to worry about the federal government jacking up the price by blocking standards that make lightbulbs, refrigerators, and washing machines cheaper to run.”
According to the coalition, the alterations to the Process Rule create lower standards which violates the Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1996.
Becerra said the since the law has passed consumers have benefited by saving nearly $2 trillion, while the atmosphere has also experienced benefits by avoiding more than 2.6 billion tons of carbon emissions over the last 14 years.
The Trump administration announced the changes in January, saying the step was necessary to clarify the existing rules and provide certainty and transparency to manufacturers.
“Clearer energy efficiency standards will provide certainty to manufacturers, allowing them to produce products that will save consumers money on a variety of appliances,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette. “These modernized procedures will increase transparency, accountability, and regulatory certainty for the American people.”
But conservation advocates say the administration is using the rhetoric of predictability to disguise what is essentially a giveaway to a few manufacturers that have to spend more to comply with federal requirements.
“It’s outrageous that the Department of Energy is hiding behind process to take a sledgehammer to America’s most successful energy-saving program,” said Joe Vukovich, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Vukovich said that efficiency standards are one of the most important tools the federal government possesses to combat climate change and curtail the emission of greenhouse gases.
“The Department of Energy wants everyone to think these are merely wonky procedural changes, but they will have enormous long-term effects on consumer budgets and the environment,” the attorney said.
The department’s own calculations show that by 2030, having more efficient appliances like refrigerators, washers, dryers and air conditioners will have spared an additional 3 billion tons of emissions from accumulating in the atmosphere. This is roughly equivalent to emissions from 631 million cars.
Efficiency also helps consumer budgets.
The energy efficiency standards are presumed to save the average American family about $500 per year on their electricity bills.
The states of Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington joined California as plaintiffs in the suit. The District of Columbia and New York City also joined the suit.
There have been multiple lawsuits filed against the Trump administration’s energy department as it has engaged in large scale regulatory rollbacks that critics say harm the environment and exacerbate climate change. For their part, supporters say the rollbacks help the economy while providing market certainty.
Lawsuits have been filed to protect emissions standards for commercial boilers, uphold standards for lightbulbs and challenge the agency’s failure to finalize standards related to portable air conditioners, generators, boilers, air compressors and walk-in freezers and refrigerators.
An email sent to the Department of Energy seeking comment was not returned by press time.