The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to complete 13 product efficiency standards this year out of a list of 16 for which it has missed legal rulemaking deadlines, a spokesperson told Utility Dive Thursday.
That morning, DOE Assistant Secretary Dan Simmons told a House committee the agency would complete "some" of the pending rulemakings this year, which cover efficiency standards for appliances from refrigerators to washing machines and water heaters.
An agency spokesperson later said via email that DOE "plans to take action in the coming months on 13 of the 16," including standards on "clothes dryers, cooking products, and electric motors," but did not provide further details.
The statement followed a morning of questioning in the House Energy and Commerce Committee during which Chairman Frank Pallone, N.J., and other Democrats pressed Simmons on the delayed standards.
The assistant secretary repeatedly told lawmakers that DOE respects its legal deadlines, but crafting policy under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which governs efficiency standards, can "literally take years."
"The law also requires that for setting standards we need to determine the maximum efficiency that is both technologically feasible and economically justified," Simmons said. "There are seven factors that go into determining whether something is economically justified. That process can take a decent amount of time … especially because we are not allowed to reduce performance characteristics of projects."
Pallone and other Democrats were unsatisfied with Simmons' explanation, saying DOE's delays were creating uncertainty for appliance manufacturers across the country.
"It just seems to me that you're not going to follow the law," Pallone said. "To me that is a clear indication there's not a serious effort there. We really need to see some action now to update and finalize these critical efficiency standards."
According to efficiency advocates, legal deadlines missed for DOE's pending efficiency standards date back as far as two years. Taken together, the Alliance Standard Awareness Project expects the rules to save electricity consumers $43 billion annually by 2035, Executive Director Andrew deLaski told the committee.
In addition to the 13 delayed product efficiency standards, Simmons told lawmakers DOE is currently working to finalize four other efficiency standards and 24 test procedures that underpin minimum standards.
DOE also faces four lawsuits relating to its delay in finalizing efficiency standards, he said.
What all of the new standards will cover remains unclear. In addition to the appliances listed by the DOE spokesperson, Simmons said during his testimony that DOE is working on standards to cover lamp ballasts and commercial refrigeration — two products that are on the delayed list — as well as microwaves, which are not on the list. He gave no more indication during the hearing about which rulemakings are underway.
In addition to appliance standards, Democrats also questioned Simmons on DOE's decision to reverse an Obama-era policy that would have expanded lightbulb efficiency standards to new types of bulbs, like candelabra fixtures.
"Trashing this significant standard will allow inefficient products to remain on the market and increase customer bills," Pallone said.
Simmons responded that efficient LED versions of these lightbulbs are already available to customers, and DOE should not force the less efficient options out of the market.
"I am very skeptical about large amounts of harm to the American people because they have a greater selection of lightbulbs available to them," Simmons said.
Under questioning from Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., Simmons acknowledged that extending the standards to new types of bulbs would result in greater overall energy savings.
"There could be efficiency improvements, yes," Simmons said.
"Could be?" Tonko pressed.
"There would be efficiency improvements," Simmons replied.
"So you would deny that?"
"I'm a little bit lost as to what we'd be affirming or denying," Simmons replied just before Tonko's questioning time expired. "Not sure about the exact question, sir, I'm sorry."
Simmons faced questioning just hours after Bloomberg reported that President Donald Trump's budget proposal, expected next week, will propose to cut DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office by 70%. The president proposed similar cuts to the office in the past two years, but Congress funded the office fully in the final budgets that Trump signed.
Simmons heads the EERE office, but declined to comment during the hearing on budget reports. After a Washington event last week, the assistant secretary told Utility Dive he had pressed administration officials to support the office in internal conversations.
"The budget process has been interesting the last two years," Simmons said after a forum hosted by the Alliance to Save Energy on Feb. 28. "I have made my arguments internally and we'll see how that will come out."