This story was updated at 2:55 p.m. EST.
The Department of Energy is considering additional changes to energy efficiency standards that environmentalists say raise "serious concerns" about the future of the program.
DOE issued a request for information this week to examine the "process rule," internal agency procedures on how efficiency standards are developed. It follows a notice Monday to assess modeling efficiency requirements after fuel efficiency requirements for vehicles (Greenwire, Nov. 27).
The document floats the idea of making it mandatory for test procedures on appliances to come before rules, and for DOE to use test procedures set by industry. Test procedures are used by manufacturers to certify compliance with DOE’s efficiency rules.
Andrew deLaski, executive director at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said he was concerned that making it mandatory to complete test procedures before efficiency rules would set up the agency to not meet legal deadlines. Congress set the timeline of when efficiency standards should be released.
"The test method becomes an excuse to not get the standard done. It can’t be an excuse to not do what Congress said you must do," he said.
DOE is already behind this year on several energy efficiency deadlines on a half-dozen products, he said.
While it is generally a good idea to use industry test methods, DOE has to make sure they fairly represent actual product performance, deLaski said.
"Test procedures that lack adequate precision or details can open the door to cheating, which hurts all the manufacturers that play by the rules and hurts consumers who get products that are less efficient than claimed," deLaski said. He noted that a refrigerator manufacturer once cheated by programming its refrigerators to detect the test procedure conditions and shut off energy-using components.
But DOE said industry has raised many concerns about the existing process rule, which is more than two decades old. It received comments after President Trump issued an executive order in February to set up task forces at agencies to identify regulations that should be replaced or changed.
"Specifically, commenters requested that DOE consider using the industry standards, without modification, as the test procedure. This approach could lead to process efficiencies and ease the test burden on manufacturers," DOE said.
It also noted companies urged DOE "instead of rushing to complete a standards rulemaking, [to] take the time and resources needed to gather the necessary technical information and develop the appropriate test procedure prior."
In comments this year, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and three other groups urged DOE to make numerous changes to the appliance standards program to ease the "never ending churn of rulemaking."
DOE said it would hold a public meeting Jan. 9 on the process rule. Comments would be accepted 90 days after the document’s publication in the Federal Register.
Many environmentalists consider DOE’s efficiency standards program to be a key tool in fighting climate change. President Obama pledged to release standards that would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 3 billion tons as part of his Climate Action Plan.