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issue: October 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line - Editorial
Fostering A Culture of Efficiency


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Tim Somheil, Editor

It has just been a few weeks since I took over as editor of APPLIANCE magazine, but they have been interesting times for our industry and the world.

Here is a little background for those who were surprised to see my face, and not that of Lisa Bonnema, pictured on this page. Former Editor Bonnema is on maternity leave. She and husband Jeff are now the proud parents of Emma Kay Bonnema, born on Sunday, August 14. As planned, I took over the job of editor-in-chief. Bonnema will return as senior editor, with responsibility for our APPLIANCE Engineer section and European Editions.

Some of you will recognize me, as I have been on the APPLIANCE editorial staff since 1988. I’ve written many articles and thousands of news items. I’ve been all over the world, touring dozens of appliance plants and attending countless trade shows. Most importantly, I have met many of the good people in the appliance industry during the last 17 years.

In my first month as Editor, the industry landscape changed with the signing of a definitive Maytag/Whirlpool merger agreement. The U.S. changed too, when it suffered the trauma of Hurricane Katrina and began the long process of recovery and healing.

As this issue of APPLIANCE goes to press, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is being hit with a pair of lawsuits on its failure to meet deadlines for energy standards rulemaking for 22 appliances. One lawsuit comes from a coalition of 15 U.S. states and the City of New York, the other from a group of environmental organizations.

“The DOE has missed every deadline except in those cases where industry, environmentalists and the states agreed to the standards,” says Charles A. Samuels, government relations counsel for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), based in Washington DC.

But there are good reasons why this has occurred, for the most part beyond DOE’s reasonable control. The huge backlog comes simply from the number of items on DOE’s “to-do” list. DOE is swamped. It is expected to do far more than any government agency can reasonably be expected to do. The blame is shared by all the parties who had a hand in shaping DOE’s rulemaking process—appliance companies included. “In retrospect, we see that the industries, the environmentalists and the states all took a stovepipe mentality when we influenced these laws,” Chuck Samuels observes. “All we worried about were our individual products.”

The result was a law with dozens of deadlines for a wide variety of consumer and commercial products. The backlog became even more unwieldy when 20 new energy standards were added to the list by the enactment of the latest U.S. energy law.

Despite a flawed system, DOE has managed to put in place more than 20 effective standards for consumer and commercial products. One example: no less than three successive refrigerator standards were enacted and saved consumers many quads of energy and billions of dollars in energy costs, while minimizing carbon emissions and reducing the need for power plant construction. “What DOE does well is prioritize the needed rules and skip standards that make less sense,” Samuels tells APPLIANCE.

An example arises from the Clothes Washer Standard developed in 2001. This two-tier standard increased washer efficiency by 22 percent in 2004 and will raise efficiency by 35 percent (over the 2001 baseline) in 2007. The standard addressed Retained Moisture Content, which measures how dry clothes are when they come out of the washer spin cycle.

“We essentially give a credit to clothes dryer efficiency when clothes leave the washer relatively dry,” Samuels explains. As a result, an agreement was reached by industry, DOE, the states and environmental interests to not pursue new rulemaking for clothes dryers, even though such rulemaking was due. “Although DOE technically violated the law by not doing clothes dryer rulemaking, everyone agreed to the strategy,” Samuels says. As a result, manufacturers were saved from spending millions in resources to address potential enhanced dryer efficiency, and the efforts of all involved could be shifted to other rules with more substantial benefits.

The roots of consortium states’ aggravation dates back 20 years to the adoption of the federal National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA), pre-empting U.S. states’ authority to impose their own energy efficiency standards on appliances. “When NAECA was negotiated in 1987 it included DOE’s schedule for new efficiency rulemakings, which states viewed as a trade-off for losing the right to dictate their own standards,” Joe Mattingly, vice president, secretary and general counsel, Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA), tells APPLIANCE. “DOE has not kept up with the schedule, to say the least, and the states are frustrated.”

Ignored by the lawsuit is the success of voluntary energy efficiency initiatives, including DOE’s Energy Star. Energy Star is successful by the most important measure: it positively influences consumers to purchase extra-efficient appliances. Consumer demand, in turn, spurs appliance producers to engineer and market those extra-efficient appliances.

Comments by participants in the lawsuit make one wonder if they have any understanding of current appliance energy efficiencies.

The cost-saving technology is widely available; failure to use it is folly,” says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who apparently believes his lawsuit will lead directly to more stringent energy efficiency standards. DOE, in truth, is not required to enact new standards, but only to engage in rulemaking that evaluates the need for new standards.

The law says that any new standard has to be technically feasible and economically justifiable,” explains Samuels.

Does Blumenthal truly think there is “cost-saving” technology that is being ignored by the industry? In actuality, the industry is constantly searching out new efficiency technologies and working to make them cost-justifiable. Extreme energy efficiency at an exorbitant cost does nobody any good—least of all consumers.

It’s difficult to understand how the attorneys general feel the lawsuit will clear the DOE rules backlog without providing for big investments in the department. “Are congressional delegations from those states willing to increase congressional funding to DOE to accelerate rulemaking?” asks Mattingly of GAMA. “I don’t know that they are.”

The DOE rules process should be fixed, but a better focus of the states’ energies would be to promote what is already working. The stated goal of the lawsuits, to bring better energy efficiency to consumers, is being achieved today. With more resources, DOE’s powerful Energy Star brand and other incentives could be leveraged more effectively to drive even stronger sales of energy efficient appliances. Innovation would be spurred instead of manipulated. Consumers would be enticed into buying the most environmentally friendly products instead of being ordered to do so.
An engineering/consumer culture of energy efficiency will thrive if it is fostered rather than forced.

 

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