Home Furnace Efficiency Standards Challenged as Weak

NEW YORK, New York, January 20, 2008 (ENS) – Environmental advocates and state and city governments filed lawsuits Thursday to force the U.S. Department of Energy to adopt stronger energy efficiency standards for residential furnaces and boilers.

The public interest law firm Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, arguing that a two percent increase in efficiency standards adopted by the Energy Department in November will cost consumers billions of dollars and fail to reduce global warming emissions of carbon dioxide, CO2.

The city of New York and the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York also challenged the DOE standards in a joint lawsuit filed separately.

“Stronger energy efficiency standards for furnaces and boilers would save money, stop pollution and spare health,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. “The Bush administration’s stagnant standards disregard the law and public interest, benefiting industry at the expense of consumers and the environment.”

“Without increased fuel efficiency, consumers nationwide will unnecessarily spend potentially millions more in home heating costs, while their furnaces and boilers spew millions more tons of harmful CO2.”

The new DOE standards for gas-fired furnaces – the most common home heating appliance – represent a small increase from 78 to 80 percent efficiency.

When the DOE announced its new standards for furnaces and boilers in November 2007, the agency tried to put a good face on the move.

“As a nation, we must find better and more ways to both conserve energy and use it more efficiently and productively. These amended standards will not only cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, but they also allow consumers to make smarter energy choices that will save energy and money,” said DOE Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner.

“Improving appliance standards is a top priority of the Department of Energy, and in the coming years, we intend to maintain and, where possible, accelerate the extraordinary progress we have made over the last two years,” he said.

Higher efficiency standards translate into economic benefits, especially in northern states where the cost difference between low and high efficiency models can be recovered more quickly through reduced heating bills.

Advocates for residents in these regions said the weak national standards hurt renters who are stuck paying the higher fuel costs of less efficient models installed by landlords.

“By adopting such weak new standards, the Energy Department is telling New Yorkers and others that reducing greenhouse gases and heating bills just doesn’t matter,” said Ramin Pejan, attorney at the New York City Law Department. “The success of the City’s PlaNYC efforts to improve air quality in a cost-effective manner depends, in part, on cooperation from federal agencies.”

“DOE chose to implement a standard so weak it is simply meaningless,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo. “The vast majority of products on the market already meet the standard DOE has adopted. This is a blink and you’ll miss it efficiency increase.”

Ballo says the Energy Department recognized that adopting a 90 percent efficiency standard nationwide would maximize consumer value, saving $11 billion over a 24 year period, while also preventing the emission of 141 million tons of carbon dioxide over the same span.

Yet the federal agency instead opted for a standard that 99 percent of furnaces on the market already meet, resulting in much less cost savings and virtually no reduction in CO2 emissions.

The lawsuits challenge what plaintiffs call flaws in the Energy Department’s economic analysis that led the department to undervalue the benefits of stronger standards. For example, a stronger standard would most likely drive down the cost of natural gas, but the agency officials failed to consider this factor in making their decision.

The plaintifs contend that the Energy Department also failed to place a dollar value on the decreased carbon dioxide emissions that would result from a stronger efficiency standard.

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