It won't come as a surprise that the Energy Department is undoing Carter administration rules to require minimum energy efficiency standards for eight major appliances, including air conditioners, refrigerators, furnaces and water heaters. Now some people are worried that strong state standards like California's may be undone as well.
DOE's draft revision of the rules is on its second go-round at the Office of Management and Budget, which did not like the department's first analysis supporting the decision. Back in 1980, DOE estimated the standards would save consumers $29.4 billion in electrical bills over 23 years while adding $10 billion to the cost of appliances. The appliance industry said DOE overstated benefits and understated the cost.
The 1978 National Energy Conservation Policy Act instructed DOE to set mandatory standards for applicance efficiency unless it determined they were not technologically or economically feasible. It also said federal standards would preempt state rules. One result of the new plan could be that California and other states with tougher rules would have to ask Uncle Sam's permission to keep them.
The absence of mandatory standards won't stop manufacturers from improving the efficiency of their products, and labeling the products with "energy efficiency ratios" that allow the consumer to figure out which appliance will be kindest to a utility bill. A representative of the Whirlpool Corp. met with DOE officials earlier this month and said the industry will continue energy conservation efforts.