A Pact on Electrical Energy Efficiency

Appliance makers said yesterday that they have reached an agreement on federal equipment standards that would increase the energy efficiency of air conditioners and heat pumps sold in the United States by 26 percent.

If accepted by federal regulators and Congress, the new efficiency standards are intended to reduce peak power needs by about 7,400 megawatts by 2020, equal to the electricity output of 25 new power plants. One megawatt provides enough power for about 1,000 homes.

Under the deal between air conditioner manufacturers and energy savings advocates, the current energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 8.9 established by Congress in 1992 would rise for the most common cooling units to 11.2 by January 2010.

The efficiency ratings measure the amount of electricity required by an air conditioner or heat pump to provide the desired cooling in BTUs when the outside temperature is at a specific level, usually 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher an EER, the more energy-efficient a unit is.

The agreement also calls for extending the federal standards to large commercial air conditioners and heat pumps.

The net benefits to building owners would be about $2.4 billion for commercial air conditioners purchased over the 2010-2030 period, when the value of the energy savings is subtracted from the expected additional cost of the improved equipment.

Nomination Hearing Set for Griffith

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) has scheduled a nomination hearing Tuesday for Thomas B. Griffith, President Bush's choice for an open seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, committee sources said.

Griffith's nomination has been stalled by revelations that he practiced law without a valid license in the District and Utah. Hatch's office scheduled the Tuesday hearing before the Judiciary Committee without naming the nominee to be considered, but committee sources said Hatch has indicated it is for Griffith, a former counsel to the U.S. Senate and now the general counsel for Brigham Young University in Utah.

Hatch told reporters last week that he hoped to hold Griffith's hearing before Congress adjourns its lame-duck session in the next two weeks and Hatch's committee chairmanship ends, even if there is no time to have the Senate vote on Griffith's nomination this year.

After an unusually long investigation into Griffith's past this summer and fall, the American Bar Association on Sept. 29 gave Griffith a vote of "qualified," with a large minority voting "not qualified." That is the lowest possible passing grade the bar association gives judicial nominees.

Of the 10 Bush administration appeals court nominees who received the same rating, six were confirmed to the bench.

Panel Eyes Toxic Substances in Gulf War

A federal panel that has spent two years reviewing studies of Persian Gulf War illnesses recommends future research focus on the effects of the toxic substances that veterans encountered during the 1991 conflict.

That conclusion differs from the findings of a Clinton administration panel finding that stress was the cause of the mysterious ailments afflicting thousands of Gulf War veterans.

The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness said scientists are closing in on a treatment but need more government help. The committee suggested spending $60 million over the next four years to monitor and research the health of veterans and their children.

-- Compiled from reports by staff writer

Carol D. Leonnig and news services