Judge Thaws Obama-Era Energy Efficiency Standards

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The U.S. Department of Energy must roll out Obama-era efficiency standards that are expected to cut carbon emissions and save consumers billions of dollars for decades to come, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria found the Energy Department breached its duty by refusing to publish four new standards for industrial equipment and home appliances slated to take effect in February 2017.

“This ruling is a victory for common sense,” said Kit Kennedy, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of 17 plaintiffs that sued over the standards freeze. “Energy efficiency is a key strategy for reducing energy bills, lightening the load on our energy grid and reducing pollution.”

Eleven states, two cities, and four conservation and consumer advocacy groups sued Energy Secretary Rick Perry in June last year, claiming the department shirked its obligations by failing to publish final efficiency standard rules after a 45-day error correction period.

The new standards apply to air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies, air compressors, walk-in coolers and freezers, and commercial boilers. The rules are expected to cut 99 million metric tons of carbon emissions and save consumers and businesses $8.4 billion over the next 30 years, according to Energy Department estimates.

“Today’s ruling means that the Trump administration may no longer block common-sense energy efficiency standards,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Thursday. “This is a tremendous victory for the American people and for our planet.”

Chhabria concluded in his ruling that the Energy Policy and Conservation Act requires the department to publish final rules at the end of a 45-day error correction period.

The Trump administration argued in court that the law specified no deadline for publishing final rules, and that the error correction procedure did not override the Energy Secretary’s authority to correct and change standards prior to final publication.

Chhabria rejected that argument on Thursday.

“The text of the Error Correction Rule creates a clear-cut duty for the Department to publish an energy standard in the Federal Register at the end of the error-correction process,” the judge wrote in his 9-page ruling.

The judge denied the Energy Department’s motion to dismiss, granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, and issued final judgment in favor the plaintiffs.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman praised the ruling in a statement Thursday, saying he and other attorneys general will continue fighting the Trump Administration’s “polluter first” agenda.

“Our coalition of attorneys general has made clear that we’ll use every tool at our disposal to protect our public health, our environment, and consumers’ pocketbooks,” Schneiderman said. “We will continue to fight to ensure the Trump administration meets its obligations to New Yorkers and the law.”

Plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit include the states of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington state, the District of Columbia, and the city of New York.

Other groups challenging the frozen efficiency standards include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Consumer Federation of America, and Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy.

The U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Energy did not immediately return emails seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

Mark McKane, attorney for the intervening defendant Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute, an industry trade group, did not return a phone call seeking comment on Thursday.


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