- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) it says would "remove unnecessary obstacles" to setting appliance efficiency standards, in part by reversing changes to the "process rule" made by the Trump administration.
- The process rule helps determine how appliance efficiency standards are set and updated. Clean energy advocates say changes approved by President Donald Trump's DOE made the process more lengthy and complicated, and added "arbitrary" savings thresholds required to set standards. Appliance manufacturers argue the Trump-led changes ensured standards produced significant energy savings
- The new proposal, issued Wednesday, would revert the process rule to "nonbinding guidance status," allowing DOE some flexibility in its application, and would eliminate the minimum energy savings threshold for appliance standards. The agency will hold a webinar on April 23 to discuss the proposed rule changes.
Energy efficiency advocates who decried a flurry of "midnight regulations" finalized at the end of the Trump administration are now celebrating the Biden's administration's efforts to undo some of those changes. For some other industries governed by the rules, the experience is opposite.
In the last weeks of the Trump administration, multiple final rules were published that efficiency advocates say were designed to hamper DOE's Appliance and Equipment Standards Program. Appliance manufacturers tended to favor the changes, as they allowed for product testing flexibility and more pathways to challenge standards.
The American Public Gas Association in a statement said it "supports the current Process Rule, which underwent a robust modernization in 2020 to prioritize appliance efficiency rulemaking and help consumers access energy savings."
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) said it was "disappointed with the direction" DOE is taking through its proposed revisions to the process rule.
NEMA and other appliance manufacturers met with Biden officials in late March to discuss the coming rule change. In a statement, the group said it "supported last year's revisions as a significant and necessary regulatory reform as it improved DOE's ability to meet statutory deadlines and prioritize rulemakings to those with significant energy savings."
Undoing the 2020 process rule amendments "that increased transparency and certainty will make DOE less timely," NEMA said.
DOE is required to review appliance standards every six years. However, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), DOE under Trump missed 28 legal deadlines for considering new standards. And another 19 standards must be set by January 2025, the groups said, meaning the DOE under President Joe Biden has four years to consider standards for almost 50 products.
Biden has signaled his administration intends to reverse course on multiple Trump rules. In a February regulatory review memo, DOE said it was reviewing more than a dozen rules issued by the Trump Administration that may "present obstacles" to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Changes to the process rule represent the "first steps necessary for repairing damage done by the Trump administration," Joe Vukovich, an energy efficiency advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a Thursday blog post.
"This is the administration's first major regulatory action to address DOE's efficiency program. It's a welcome change from the past four years, when the program was under siege through both neglect, leading DOE to miss numerous legal deadlines, and active disruption, leading to numerous regulations that weakened the program," Vukovich wrote.
The NOPR "is another encouraging sign" DOE is making energy savings a priority, said ASAP Executive Director Andrew deLaski.
The NOPR removes hurdles to setting standards, and allows DOE to consider the process rule as merely guidance. The proposed rule notes "the possibility that the usual practices" for issuing new or amended energy conservation standards "would not be appropriate for every rulemaking and that the circumstances of a particular rulemaking should dictate application of these generally applicable practices."
The proposed rule also loosens requirements that DOE use manufacturer-developed testing procedures, and allows for a potential stakeholder negotiation process in setting standards.
"The set of hurdles and barriers that the previous administration threw down were deliberately designed to make it harder for a future administration to set efficiency standards," deLaski said. And, the Trump administration inserted provisions that made new efficiency standards more vulnerable to legal challenge, he said.
"The new administration is showing the appropriate urgency," he said. "If you're behind schedule and now have a process that includes more steps, it will take you longer to catch up — and in the meantime, you will probably miss more deadlines."