The Bush Administration has proposed a rollback of Clinton-era energy standards that would have required a 30 percent increase in the efficiency of central home air-conditioners and heat pumps by 2006. Instead, the new proposed standards mandate a 20 percent increase in efficiency.
Seven states have sued to reverse the decision, known as Senate Bill 517, and California is seeking to impose its own, stricter standards.
Most U.S. manufacturers argue that the higher Clinton Administration standards would make ACs even more expensive, hence making them inaccessible to low-income families. More costly air conditioners would also lengthen the time it takes most American families to replace older, less-efficient models, they say.
Air conditioner makers Carrier, Lennox International, American Standard's Trane and York International had asked the government to drop the stricter standard, and have filed suit in federal court to block it.
By contrast, Goodman Manufacturing Co., the maker of Amana air conditioners, favors the higher efficiency standards, arguing that they are a cost-effective way to reduce energy requirements, high energy costs to the consumer, and harmful air emissions.
Environmental groups also urged the Energy Department to stick with the Clinton plan. The Alliance to Save Energy claims consumers across the nation would save a total of $1 billion annually by 2020 on their utility bills if the more efficient air conditioning units became widespread. In addition to lower bills, higher standards would reduce air pollution.
"I am disappointed that the president passed up the opportunity to save energy, prevent potential blackouts and save consumers substantial amounts of money on their electricity bills," said Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who serves as chairman of the Alliance.