The Department of Energy violated the law by indefinitely putting on hold four rules requiring air conditioners, boilers, and other products to use less energy, a federal judge recently ruled.
The efficiency rules would save consumers more than $8 billion over a 30-year period, according to the Energy Department’s own analysis. The decision by US District Judge Vince Chhabria, who sits in San Francisco, came in response to twin lawsuits filed by states and environmental groups against the agency.
“Today’s ruling means that the Trump Administration may no longer block common-sense energy efficiency standards. This is a tremendous victory for the American people and for our planet,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Thursday in a statement. “The stakes could not be higher — climate change is the most important global environmental issue of our time. Our citizens have a right to be part of the climate change solution.”
The judge’s ruling is the latest court victory for environmental groups, states, and others challenging the Trump administration’s rollback or delay of dozens of pollution, energy, and efficiency rules. This follows court decisions requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to implement rules requiring that oil and gas operators identify and fix methane leaks, and to not delay Obama-era rules requiring states to decrease smog pollution.
The Obama administration, back in December 2016, posted five energy efficiency rules for public review for minor errors, such as typos or miscalculations, a necessary step before publishing them in the federal register. Months after the review process ended, where a small calculation error was identified for only one of the rules, the Trump administration had still not published any of them in the federal register. This was keeping them from taking effect.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with other environmental groups, sued the administration for failing to act in June 2017. At the same time, a group of 11 state attorneys general and New York City also filed a lawsuit over the delayed efficiency rules. The cases were both filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, and then consolidated.
The Energy Department later implemented one of the rules — efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers, such as the ones used by grocery stores and restaurants.
However, officials have continued to sit on the other four standards for portable air conditioners, air compressors, commercial packaged boilers and what are called uninterruptible power sources, backup power for computers and other equipment. And they have offered little explanation for the delay.
The remaining rules would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 99 million metric tons over a 30-year period, according to an Energy Department analysis. That’s the equivalent of taking 21 million cars off the road in a year.
“This failure is a violation of the Department’s duties under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act,” Chhabria wrote in the opinion published Thursday. Trump officials now have to implement the energy rules within 28 days of the ruling.
“The Department is reviewing the Court’s ruling and has no further comment at this time,” Shaylyn Hynes, an Energy Department spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News in an email.
“Energy efficiency standards are one of the most successful strategies that we have to reduce consumer energy bills, to fight off pollution, and reduce the load on energy grids,” Kit Kennedy, senior director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy Program, told BuzzFeed News. “We’re really heartened by this decision.”