Maine In Suit Against U.S. Department Of Energy For Failing Consumers On Energy Standards

September 7, 2005

A coalition of 15 states and the City of New York today sued the federal Department of Energy for violating the federal law that requires it to adopt stronger energy-saving standards for 22 common appliances that use large amounts of electricity, natural gas and oil by clearly specified deadlines stated in the law.

The standards sought by the lawsuit, according to the federal government's own numbers, would generate substantial savings for consumers and reduce air pollution and global warming emissions from power plants.

Attorney General Steve Rowe said, "Federal law required the Department of Energy to update energy efficiency standards for many kinds of appliances by deadlines that have long since passed. These modern efficiency standards would reduce demand for electricity, decrease our dependence on foreign oil and save consumers money on their utility bills. As energy costs spiral out of control, there is no excuse for the federal government's continued foot-dragging and inaction."

Governor John Baldacci said, "Energy conservation and efficiency are the first and best defense against rising energy prices. Today's extraordinarily high energy prices provide an urgent need to increase appliance efficiency standards immediately. It is unfortunate that it is taking legal action from the state attorneys general to force federal agencies to implement federal law that was passed years ago. I was disappointed this past session when legislation to improve appliance standards for products not covered by federal law failed."

Congress directed the Department of Energy to strengthen efficiency standards for a wide range of household and commercial products, including furnaces, water heaters, clothes washers, dryers, air conditioners, dishwashers, heat pumps, ranges, ovens, motors and lamps.

Congress established initial efficiency standards for most of the products, and directed the Department of Energy periodically to review and strengthen them. For the remaining products the Department of Energy is to establish the initial efficiency standards and also periodically strengthen them. The Department of Energy is six to thirteen years behind schedule and has not adopted any appliance efficiency standards since January 2001.

Appliance efficiency standards capitalize on improved technology and require that the covered appliances use less electricity, gas or oil while providing the same or improved levels of service and reliability. In the past, both the federal government and industry have agreed that national efficiency standards are among the fairest and most cost-effective way to reduce the use of energy.

Based on the Department of Energy's estimates, the average annual energy savings would meet the total annual energy needs of between 3 million to 12 million American households, depending on how fast the new standards are phased in and what the new standards are. Annual electricity savings alone would approximately equal to the output of 13 - 42 large power plants.

Energy efficiency experts estimate that existing federal appliance efficiency standards are expected by 2010 to lower electricity costs by over $20 billion per year. The new and strengthened standards that Congress required and that the states are suing to implement would increase those savings.

The states wrote to the Department of Energy on July 1, 2005, requesting that it comply with the law and commit to a binding schedule for the establishment of stronger efficiency standards. They alerted the agency that without such a schedule, the states would commence federal litigation. To date, the Department of Energy has not responded to the letter. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.