The new federal indoor temperature regulations designed to conserve energy have enough loopholes, exceptions, confusing provisions and enforcement problems that many buildings will be below 78 degrees this summer.
The 78-degree rule technically went into effect yesterday, but Department of Energy officials say they will allow the public 30 days "lag time" to comply. No enforcement agents have been hired, according to John millhone, the program's director, and Energy Department officials say that when they are, their training will last for six weeks to two months.
Moreover, the government intends to hire only 100 to 200 full-time agents - or an average of two to four agents per state. They will be asked to monitor an estimated five million buildings affected by the new temperature regulations.
Energy Department officials say local health and building inspectors will also be called on to check building temperatures. In addition, members of the public will be asked to report violaions - which could lead to fines of $5,000 or $10,000.
Millhone acknowledged that its ultimate success will depend on voluntary compliance.
"It's going to depend on information, education, and persuasion. It's not going to depend on an inspector making a weekly check," Millhone said.
Even if enforcement agents were already hired and trained, the regulations would still be unenforceable for several weeks. Energy Department officials say the forms to be used for requesting exemptions from the regulations have not been printed and distributed, so the government does not know which building will be exempt.
"There's been absolute mass confusion," said John O'Neill, executive vice president of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington. "There's no way to enforce it because the DOE doesn't know who's exempt."
The regulations allow for a number of exemptions from the 78-degree rule, including all residential buildings, hospitals and some schools. In addition museums, art galleries, archives, libraries, food and drug retail and wholesale businesses and any buildings containing machines or materials that may be seriously damaged by high temperatures may apply for exemptions.
The complex regulations also provide for exemptions in rooms with computers or telephone cables that require certain constant temperatures. The rules also allow exemptions, in individuals cases, for "hardships."
For example, Edward Simmons of the Energy Department said that a clothing retailer had complained that with a 78-degree temperature, customers may stain clothing with perspiration while in the fitting room. Simmons said the Energy Department would grant an exemption in such a case.
The regulations also allow for numerous exceptions to the temperature limits in all buildings and provides for various methods of setting and determining temperatures.
Because of the variations in the rules, rooms in the same building can have different temperatures and comply with the federal regulations.
For example, in an area where the temperature is regulated by one control switch, a reading may be taken in the room with the highest temperature. If the reading in that room is 78 degrees, then the entire area controlled by that switch is considered to be in compliance with the regulations, even if every other room in the area is below 78 degrees.
Under the regulations, building managers may set temperatures with a number of methods and still be in compliance with the rules.
They may simply set thermostats at 78 degrees. Or they may set the temperature of the cooling coil in the building's cooling system at 55 degress, which would normally produce a room temperature of 78 degrees. Either way, the building would be in compliance with federal regulations regardless of the varying temperatures throughout the building.
In addition, humidity and air circulation - two factors which largely determine the comfort of the building - can be altered in all buildings under the regulations.
The rules allow the use of fans in all buildings - including federal buildings - despite a General Services Administration regulation against the use of fans in federal buildings.
(The emergency temperature regulations will supercede all other rules - including specific temperature clauses in lease agreements for commercial property.)
The regulations repeatedly stess that the goal of the program is to conserve fuel, not to arrive at any particular temperature. A cooling system that does not use a nonrenewable resource - solar energy, for example - is allowed to be set at any temperature.
In addition building managers are encouraged to attempt to use fresh air to heat or cool buildings.
In some cases, the Energy Department says, raising the indoor temperatures may actually lead to a waste of energy - if the building contains refrigerators or other machinery that would require more electricity to maintain the temperature. Supermarkets would fit into this category, Energy Department officials say.
In addition, in restaurants, if the kitchen temperature is 78 degrees, the dining area would be several degrees cooler. This specific situation is approved in the regulations.
The 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act empowered the president to order standby emergency energy conservation plans to deal with short-term energy shortages.
In April of this year the president submitted a plan to Congress calling for standby authority to order most nonresidential buildings to set their thermostats no lower than 80 degrees. That was later revised to the present 78-degree rule.
The president's plan was submitted to Congress and approved by the Senate on May 2 of this year and by the House on May 10. On July 10, the president issued a proclamation declaring the country was suffering from a "severe energy supply interruption."
The issuance of that proclamation was necessary under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to implement the standby conservation plan for setting a limit on thermostats.
Proposed regulations from the Energy Department were published in the Federal Register on June 2, three public hearings were held around the country and more than 650 letters from the public were received commenting on the plan. On July 5, many of the comments were incorporated in the final regulations as published in the Federal Register.
Few people question that the president and Congress are within their constitutional authority to propogate such a law under the broadly interpreted commerce clause of the Constitution.
Archibald Cox, a constitutional scholar at Harvard Law School, said he sees no major constitutional challenge to the plan and anticipates no successful challenge to it under the Constitution. In fact, the president may well have authority to even set a limit on thermostats in private homes as well, Cox said.