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Trump’s DOE Saddles Households with High-Cost, High-Emission Furnaces and Water Heaters

January 14, 2021
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Biden Will Need to Undo Rule Before Setting Strong Standards

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Washington, DC—In its waning days, the Trump administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a final rule that will keep energy-wasting furnaces, water heaters, and boilers on sale for years to come—if it is not undone. The rule would block the Biden administration from significantly strengthening efficiency standards for products that are responsible for the largest share of energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions in many homes.

Efficiency standards for home gas furnaces have been stuck since 1987, and home water heater standards since 2010 (DOE has missed legal deadlines for considering updating both). An ACEEE/ASAP report published in November found that these two products are the biggest opportunities for the Biden administration’s DOE to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through efficiency standards. Strengthening standards for the equipment affected by today’s rule could, by 2035, save households $3 billion annually on their gas utility bills and cut climate change emissions by an amount equal to the total emissions of more than two million typical U.S. homes today, according to the report.

The new rule could stymie those efforts by effectively blocking DOE from significantly strengthening standards for gas water heaters, furnaces, and boilers. It requires separate “product classes” for equipment that fails to capture and use some of the heat that goes up the flue, in effect legally separating these less-efficient models from their modern counterparts, allowing their continued sale. The Biden administration would need to first undo today’s rule before being able to set strong standards covering all water heaters, furnaces, and boilers.

DOE’s action today also included withdrawing standards proposed in 2016 for residential furnaces and commercial water heaters. The Biden administration would now need to start anew on these standards, using a longer rulemaking process set by DOE in January 2020.

“This keeps inefficient furnaces and water heaters on the market, which saddles homeowners and renters with needlessly high energy costs for decades ahead,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). “Furnaces and water heaters that unnecessarily waste gas are a climate nightmare, and we need to stop installing them.”

Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), said: “This rule is a blatant, anti-consumer attempt to block the Biden administration from finally moving us away from these inefficient products. Undoing this rule and then setting strong standards for furnaces and water heaters is no small task, but that’s what the Biden administration is going to need to do, and quickly.”

Today’s rule was requested in a 2018 rulemaking petition to DOE from the American Gas Association, American Public Gas Association, National Propane Gas Association, Natural Gas Supply Association, and Spire, Inc.

 

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