EPA and DOE oppose Senate plan for Energy Star program

The following article was published on Friday March 20, 2009 on the New York Times website. View article.

In summary, U.S. Senators are proposing to include, within a forthcoming energy bill, legislation that will resolve problems within the Energy Star program. The problems include, but are by no means limited to, the Energy Star requirements for LED lighting.

As this article describes, EPA and DOE believe that they can resolve the problems without the need for legislation. The agencies said they will resolve the problems within 45 days, echoing the joint EPA/DOE statement of March 16 (see News article).

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EPA, DOE oppose Senate plan for Energy Star program

By BEN GEMAN, Greenwire.
This article is Copyright 2009 E&E Publishing.

Senators should cut language from pending energy efficiency legislation that requires a revised cooperation agreement between the Energy Department and U.S. EPA on the Energy Star labeling program and new requirements, Obama administration officials said yesterday.

Instead, the agencies say they are working together to resolve problems with the program without legislation, and that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have already met to discuss the issue.

"The administration recognizes that we need to resolve this so there is not confusion," said Brian McLean, who directs EPA's Office of Atmospheric Programs, at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. "We want to do it as quickly as we can."

McLean and David Rodgers, a DOE official, both said the agencies would provide the committee with written documentation on resolution of problems with the program within 45 days.

But it remains unclear whether the sponsors of the bill -- committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) -- will back off. Bingaman plans to mark up a major energy bill at the end of this month. "The strong temptation I would have is to go ahead and legislate in this area and not postpone that on the hope that someday the two agencies will resolve these problems," Bingaman said.

But Rodgers sought to assure Bingaman that the agencies have things under control, citing efforts by Chu and Jackson. "Secretary Chu and Administrator Jackson have met and discussed these issues and they have committed to resolve the issue, and they have directed each of our staff to take all necessary steps to put all the issues on the table and resolve them," said Rodgers, who directs DOE's Office of Strategic Planning and Analysis within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

At issue is the Energy Star provision of a much broader bill before the committee, the Appliance Standards Improvement Act (S. 598 (pdf)). The bill requires the agencies to update the 13-year-old Energy Star cooperation agreement. It calls for a "clear delineation of roles and responsibilities," as well as a formal process for high-level decision making, biannual third party program reviews, and other measures.

The measure would impose several other requirements on the Energy Star program, requiring reviews of the energy savings thresholds for Energy Star-qualified product categories every three years or when the market share for an Energy Star product category reaches 35 percent, and decisions about whether to update criteria based on those reviews, among other steps. It also requires the demonstration of compliance by covered products through methods such as third-party verification and certification.

EPA handles more of Energy Star -- the agency oversees more than 50 of the 60 product categories, as well as all work on new homes and improving efficiency of commercial and industrial buildings, McLean said. DOE manages the program for eight product categories, Rodgers said, including clothes washers, refrigerators, dishwashers, windows and doors, LED lighting and others.

The agency officials said they are already taking steps to improve the program in areas such as expanded third-party verification, which McLean said is being enhanced at EPA. Rodgers said DOE is establishing third-party testing and verification for the appliance products it manages, while this is already under way for its lighting products. He noted this follows problems revealed with the energy consumption self-testing by LG Electronics USA for refigerator-freezers, which Rodgers said have since been corrected.

Some witnesses at the hearings discussed problems they have encountered with Energy Star, a labelling program launched by EPA in 1992 to help consumers identify the most efficient products.

Kyle Pitsor of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association said there has been confusion in the lighting industry because of competing EPA and DOE programs that address solid state lighting technologies that can provide major energy savings.

Pitsor, the group's vice president of government relations, said the first DOE specifications for solid-state lighting products were finalized in March of last year. But he said that last year EPA's Energy Star program also began addressing light fixtures that use solid state lighting. "Companies are investing and making decisions on new LED lighting and ... conflicting Energy Star programs will impede acceptance of this developing lighting technology," he said, and recommended Energy Star programs for solid state lighting be under DOE only.

The Energy Star program has also won praise. Steven Nadel of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy endorsed the provisions in the bill on Energy Star but also noted, in his statement to the committee, that the program has already been very successful.

According to EPA, in 2007 Energy Star created $16 billion worth of savings on utility bills while preventing greenhouse gas emissions that are equivalent to 27 million vehicles.

McLean also said Energy Star will remain important after a U.S. climate change regime is enacted. "Many of the market barriers present today that limit investment in low-cost energy efficiency will still exist when climate legislation is passed," he said.

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