In driving the city's Green Building Ordinance forward, Mayor Martin J. Chavez of Albuquerque demonstrated vision and leadership in sustainability that has been so sorely lacking at the national level. Unfortunately, in developing the criteria for the ordinance, the city did not check to see whether its requirements were consistent with federal law, which regulates most household appliances and equipment at the national level. Bad Albuquerque! Bad!
Sadly, a group of 13 corporations, abetted by their trade association, the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI, formerly ARI) brought suit against the ordinance. No doubt incensed by Table 403.2, which had the temerity of requiring cost-effective energy performance for Albuquerque's climate and the audacity of suggesting that actual progress be made after 20 years of regulating appliance efficiency.
Albuquerque's ordinance and the resulting lawsuit represent everything that is wrong with how our country is confronting the Climate/Energy era (see "Hot, Flat and Crowded" by Thomas Friedman):
- Progressive communities (now Santa Fe's ordinance in trouble) that are hamstrung by gridlock in Washington;
- A federal agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, that has failed to promulgate a single rulemaking on time since it was given authority under the 1987 National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, in some cases rulemakings are more than 15 YEARS behind;
- An industry — appliance and equipment manufacturers (apologies to the good ones, they know who they are) — that has largely been a champion of mediocrity when it comes to energy efficiency.
I wonder how AHRI squares their lawsuit with this text from their website: "AHRI's member companies — manufacturers of HVACR equipment — are proud of their environmental stewardship. They've proactively reduced their emissions and invest millions in research to develop the next generation of energy-efficient technologies. AHRI closely follows environmental policy proposals in Washington, in the states, and around the globe on energy efficiency, recycling and refrigerant use."
I guess fighting tooth and nail any attempt to make 20-year-old standards any more stringent qualifies as "closely follows." And the only reason they've spent a dime on research and emissions reductions is that DOE occasionally wakes up and obeys the law, usually the result of legal prodding from Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and others.
Make no mistake: The minimum requirements of the newly minted U.S. furnace standards are not energy efficient. Rather they fall into the category of "if the equipment were any more wasteful, it would be illegal." In spite of the fact that DOE itself recognized that a 90 percent Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency standard nationwide would maximize consumer value — as required by law — instead opted for raising the bar to 80 percent AFUE from 78 percent, the standard since 1987. In ignoring its own analysis, DOE left on the table energy savings worth $11 billion and codified the unnecessary emission of 141 million tons of carbon dioxide. In response to this insult, EarthJustice brought a lawsuit on behalf of the NRDC and other parties in January of this year.