It’s not over, yet, for Obama era rules, regulations and other consequential decisions — which in recent days have included protecting much of the Arctic and Atlantic from offshore drilling and designating new national monuments.
The Department of Energy also has been busy finishing a sweeping Obama era program of energy efficiency standards touching on everything from electric motors to commercial air conditioners. And on Wednesday it unveiled five more of these standards, or regulations, affecting the following products: portable air conditioners, swimming pool pumps, walk-in coolers and freezers, commercial boilers and, perhaps most obscure of all, uninterruptible power supplies, which keep devices like computers running in the case of power failures.
But as Andrew DeLaski, head of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, notes, there’s a catch — there’s a 45 day waiting period before these standards can be published in the Federal Register, which effectively means that it will be the Trump administration following through on that process.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” DeLaski said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a situation where an administration has issued a standard, but then not have it published in the Federal Register. Federal Register publication is what makes something signed, sealed, delivered. So not having completed that step I think certainly creates uncertainty.”
Delaski blogged about the new standards, and what could happen to them, noting that none of them is “especially controversial” and that taken together, they would save U.S. consumers between $15 billion and $35 billion in the long run. But nonetheless, he also highlighted that Rick Perry’s Energy Department (assuming Perry is confirmed) could delay or block their formal publication.
For its part, the department said it is simply completing its work.
“The Energy Department continues to develop efficiency standards as directed by law,” said David Friedman, the department’s acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “We have actively engaged with industry and other stakeholders, including through collaborations such as negotiated rulemakings, to put in place energy conservation standards that are delivering important utility bill savings and other benefits to American consumers and businesses.”
However, the agency did confirm DeLaski’s analysis. “Because of the 45-day clock for error correction, these will not be published in the Federal Register before January 20,” said Joshunda Sanders, a press secretary at the agency.
The 45-day waiting period is specific to the Energy Department’s appliance standards program, which dates back to the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act and was expanded by subsequent legislation. The wait period exists because of a separate regulation that (yes) was itself published in the Federal Register this year. That regulation notes that Energy Department is not allowed to make a standard less stringent once it has been finalized, so it is important not to make mistakes.
“The central features of the error correction rule are that DOE delays publishing a rule in the Federal Register (for 45 days after posting the rule) to allow for the submission of error correction requests, and that DOE commits to considering properly submitted error correction requests before publishing the rule in the Federal Register,” the agency says.
Some of the new energy efficiency standards, or regulations, are pretty consequential, DeLaski says. The biggest, in terms of the amount of money and energy it could save, is the one involving swimming pool pumps, which is the first of its kind and would save pool owners $400 a year, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. That’s simply because pools use a lot of energy, there are millions of them and the standard would reduce their energy use by 70 percent (for in-ground pools).
“If you have a swimming pool, your pool pump is by far your biggest electricity user,” DeLaski said. The standard would take effect in 2021 and would save consumers $11 billion to $24 billion over 3o years, according to his group.
Meanwhile, the uninterruptible power supply standard, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, will avoid 49 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and close to a quad (or quadrillion British thermal units) of energy use over 30 years. By way of comparison, in one year, 2011, the United States used about 97 quads.
Francis Dietz, vice president for public affairs at the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, said that two of the new standards affect the association’s companies — the ones governing walk-in coolers and boilers — and only one of them was based on a negotiated agreement between industry and the agency.
“The walk-in cooler and freezer rule was negotiated, so we agreed to those levels,” he said. “The boiler rule was not, and we are not particularly happy with the boiler rule, so I’m sure we’ll be very engaged on that.”
While not typically a highly partisan matter, energy efficiency regulations or standards have grown controversial of late. President elect Trump appeared to denounce them in the context of the decision of the Carrier plant to move jobs to Mexico, charging, incorrectly, that the plant had been subject to 53 new federal regulations in the past six years.
“Your unnecessary regulations are going to be gone,” Trump said in Indianapolis on Dec. 1.
But DeLaski noted that energy efficiency regulations have a lot of benefits — they save consumers money — and so he thinks that the new rules might persist.
“There’s a lot of reasons for the Trump administration to let them stay,” he said. “We shall see.”