States Sue U.S. over Energy Efficiency of Appliances
NEW YORK Fifteen states led by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued the U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday for dragging its feet on setting efficiency standards for household appliances that would save enormous amounts of energy.
The states and the city of New York said the DOE violated Congressional mandates to adopt stronger energy-saving standards within deadlines stated by law for 22 appliances.
The suit was filed in Manhattan Federal Court after the DOE declined to respond to a July 1 notice letter asking it to take action, Spitzer said at a press conference.
"As oil and gas prices hit record levels and the impacts of global warming become more apparent, it is profoundly disappointing that the federal government has failed to adopt these crucial energy saving standards," Spitzer said.
Spitzer and Peter Lehner, head of the attorney general's environmental bureau, said that updating efficiency standards for appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners and ovens could reduce U.S. electricity use by the equivalent of 3 percent to 12 percent over 25 years, based on 2002 usage, and the equivalent of the power generated by 13 to 42 power plants.
California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and the City of New York joined the suit.
The Energy Department said it declined to comment on the suit, though it maintained it has been a leader in conservation and energy efficiency.
"While the regulatory process is long and arduous, the department has engaged in an aggressive effort to promote the use and development of energy-efficient appliances and provides incentives for their production and purchase, most recently codified in the energy bill signed by President Bush," the department said in a written statement.
STATES STEP IN
Eighteen years ago, Congress passed laws requiring higher efficiency for household appliances and charged the DOE with setting standards and, over time, raising them.
By filing suit, 15 states representing 118 million people are saying the DOE has not complied with that mandate and is from six to 13 years behind schedule, depending upon the type of appliance.
In July, the states coalition told U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman in a letter that DOE must agree to meet a timetable for setting efficiency standards, and warned that it would sue the agency if it refused to make such a commitment.
Spitzer said the suit was filed on Wednesday after giving DOE 60 days to respond. The suit seeks an injunction that would force the agency to enact these standards, he said.
The lawsuit came as energy prices soared in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which damaged oil rigs, refineries and pipelines along the U.S. Gulf Coast. It marks the latest effort by states to pursue business and environmental reforms generally pursued by the federal government.
Spitzer and other attorneys general bypassed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by suing power companies over pollution from power plants in Ohio and other states that affected the Northeast. Spitzer said the EPA had not done enough to curb emissions.
Other Spitzer campaigns have led to reforms in analyst research, mutual fund practices and the insurance business. In each case, he has bumped into federal agencies, like the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Spitzer said New York and other states have had to pursue some lawsuits, if only to push federal agencies into action.
"It's fascinating to me: when it comes to innovation in policy, it all comes from the states," Spitzer told reporters. "It reflects an abject failure of policy (at the national level) in terms of dealing with energy, the environment or the securities industry. And into that void, the states have stepped."