Ninth Circuit Orders Thaw of Obama-Era Energy Efficiency Standards

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Trump administration cannot indefinitely freeze Obama-era energy efficiency standards that are expected to cut carbon emissions and save billions of dollars in energy costs, the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday.

Eleven states, two cities, and four environmental and consumer groups sued Energy Secretary Rick Perry in 2017, claiming the department shirked its duty to publish four final efficiency standard rules after a 45-day error correction period that started in December 2016.

“Here, the secretary had a nondiscretionary duty to submit all four rules for publication in the Federal Register within 30 days after the error-correction process ended,” U.S. Circuit Judge Paul Watford, an Obama appointee, wrote for a three-judge panel in a 22-page opinion published Thursday.

The stricter standards for industrial equipment and home appliances were slated to take effect in February 2017. They 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.

The new standards apply to air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies, air compressors, walk-in coolers and freezers, and commercial boilers.

The Trump administration had argued 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.

The Ninth Circuit rejected that argument Thursday, upholding a lower court ruling that found the error-correction rule created a “clear-cut duty” to publish finalized energy standards after a 45-day correction period.

“By delaying publication of the four rules beyond the period permitted under the error-correction rule, DOE has violated the non-discretionary duty imposed by its own regulation,” Watford wrote.

Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder and U.S. District Judge David Ezra, sitting on the panel by designation from the District of Hawaii, joined Watford on the panel.

Schroder was appointed by Jimmy Carter. Ezra was appointed by Ronald Reagan.

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.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra applauded the Ninth Circuit’s decision in a statement Thursday.

“Energy efficiency standards are a vital tool in our efforts to reduce energy consumption and alleviate the effects of climate change, the greatest existential threat of our time,” Becerra said.

Kit Kennedy, senior director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean energy program, called the ruling a victory for the planet and the rule of law.

“By refusing to allow the Trump administration to block these commonsense efficiency standards, the court prevented an incredibly successful, and bipartisan, energy-saving program from becoming a political issue that an administration can change on a whim,” Kennedy said in a statement Thursday.

Representatives from the Department of Energy and Sierra Club did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Thursday morning.

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