For Immediate Release - August 13, 2012

AG Coakley Leads Multi-State Support for U.S. Department of Energy's Enhanced Gas Furnace Efficiency Standards

Standards Could Save Ratepayers $100 Million

BOSTON — Supporting the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) new and more stringent efficiency standard for residential gas furnaces that could save Massachusetts ratepayers more than $100 million, Attorney General Martha Coakley submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday. The new standard was passed in 2011 and raised the residential gas furnace efficiency requirement to 90 percent but was challenged by a trade association representing public gas companies. New requirements for other appliances were also passed in the same ruling.

“We fully support DOE’s decision to adopt a 90 percent furnace efficiency standard, as Massachusetts has been trying to do so since 2005,” AG Coakley said. “We believe the new standard will allow Massachusetts ratepayers to save more than $100 million while improving energy system reliability and air quality.”

“The Department of Energy’s proposed standard will ultimately bring tremendous energy and dollar savings to Massachusetts residents who heat their homes with natural gas,” said Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia. “Because we have a long heating season here in the Commonwealth, we’ve been asking DOE to raise the standard for seven years. We appreciate that the Attorney General is representing the Commonwealth’s commitment to energy saving policies and practices in this case.”

The current challenge by the American Public Gas Association (APGA) was filed on claims that DOE lacked authority to issue the new furnace standard because the coalition of stakeholders was not truly “representative” of relevant points of view, and not all interested parties were given adequate input into the process.

Massachusetts, California and New York jointly describe these claims in their brief as “meritless” and explain that Congress delegated to DOE some discretion to determine both who is “representative” of relevant points of view and whether to issue a new rule.

According to DOE’s analysis, the substantial national savings for furnaces as well as for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps resulting from the implementation of the new rules could reach $4 billion for products shipped between 2013 and 2045. Additionally, cumulative carbon dioxide reductions could equal between 113 million and 143 million metric tons, nitrogen oxides could be reduced between 97,000 and 124,000 tons, and significant reductions in mercury emissions should also be seen.

In 2005, the federal gas-furnace efficiency standard was only 78 percent and was woefully inadequate to force energy savings as well as prevent unnecessary emissions from fossil-fueled power plants. The DOE missed the statutory deadline for revising the standard under the amended Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA). Addressing the weak standard, the Massachusetts Legislature passed an amendment raising the state’s furnace standard to 90 percent but federal law prevented the new standard from taking effect without the DOE’s permission.

Also in 2005, Massachusetts joined other states and interested parties in suing the DOE to require it to upgrade the national furnace standard as well as standards for 21 other consumer and commercial products including air conditioners and clothes dryers. As a result the standard was only tightened to 80 percent in 2007, and Massachusetts and other states sued to set aside the new rule as insufficient. In 2009, AG Coakley, representing the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, also petitioned the DOE to allow the state’s 90 percent standard to take effect.

In early 2010, a coalition of furnace manufacturers, energy advocates, and California, submitted a written comment to the DOE supporting the 90 percent rule. The DOE eventually adopted the proposal as a new federal rule and Massachusetts’ petition became unnecessary. 

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Fred Augenstern of AG Coakley’s Environmental Protection Division.

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