Appeals Court Reestablishes 13 SEER Standard in 2006

It's 10 for now and 13 in 2006.

Thirteen SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) is back in as theminimum efficiency standard for residential air conditioners and heatpumps manufactured after Jan. 26, 2006. The 12 SEER standard that was totake effect in 2006 has been overturned — at least for now — by a U.S. Appeals Court.

Under current Department of Energy (DOE) regulations,manufacturers of residential sized central air conditioners and heat pumps cannot produce units below 10 SEER. Under a rule adopted in January 2001, the minimum SEER was set to rise to 13, effective January 2006. However, following extensive hearings, DOE in May 2002 published a 12 SEER standard.

This led to a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council (and others), claiming that DOE had not followed proper procedures in the adoption of a 12 SEER rule. New York's Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. "The May 23, 2002 replacement standards [12 SEER rule] were promulgated in violation . . . because DOE failed to effect a valid amendment of the original standard's [13 SEER] effective date, and as a consequence was thereafter prohibited from amending those standards downward," the court said in its ruling.

The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), Arlington, VA, expressed "disappointment" at the court's decision. "We are disappointed that such an important decision affecting homeowners in all 50 states should be determined on process rather than on the impact of the regulation on millions of people," says ARI President William G. Sutton. "We will take some time to review the court's decision with counsel, and then make a decision on what options best serve consumers and energy conservation."

ARI is waiting to see if DOE will appeal to the Surpreme Court or seek further review by the Second Circuit. According to Sutton, ARI's options include pursuing the association's challenge of the 13 SEER rule before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Unlike the Second Circuit's decision, which was based on procedural grounds, the Fourth Circuit would be reviewing DOE regulations to determine whether the standard was economically justified for consumers and manufacturers, Sutton says.

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