Donald Trump had barely warmed up his chair in the Oval Office before he halted several pending regulations that the HVACR industry opposed.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus directed agencies, including the Department of Energy, to refrain from submitting regulations for publication in the Federal Register until they have been reviewed by incoming administration staff. Priebus also instructed agencies to withdraw those that have been submitted to the Federal Register but not yet published and, when possible, to extend existing comment periods for rules under development.
The order impacts several rules that affect manufacturers that are members of Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute, including the walk-in coolers and freezers rule and its accompanying test procedure rule, and the commercial boiler rule, all of which were recently submitted for publication, but delayed under the 45-day review rule. It appears that these rules must now be withdrawn and further reviewed and/or revised by new personnel at the Department of Energy.
Dietz is sure that the ill-conceived 92 percent AFUE furnace rule is dead. All DOE would have accomplished with that move, which ignored human nature and basic economics, was to ensure that no gas furnaces would be sold in the South ever again.
Steve Yurek, AHRI president and CEO, had warned us about these regulations a year ago — a last gasp regulatory frenzy as the Obama administration entered its final year. DOE was proposing, finalizing or issuing new rules for just about everything that HVACR contractors install and service.
The list of affected products included boilers, central air conditioners and heat pumps, furnaces, residential water heaters, automatic commercial icemakers, commercial and industrial pumps, commercial package air conditioners and heat pumps, commercial package boilers, commercial refrigeration equipment, commercial warm air furnaces, commercial water heating equipment, geothermal heat pumps, industrial fans and blowers, packaged terminal air conditioners and heat pumps, single package vertical air conditioners and heat pumps, variable refrigerant flow equipment, and walk-in coolers and freezers, among others.
“Obviously, we think that’s good news,” Francis Dietz, AHRI vice president, public affairs, said of the moratorium. “There were three rules that impact us in that group, not counting the furnace rule that has not been submitted for publication.”
DOE is required by law to issue a furnace rule, Dietz told me, but what will emerge is uncertain. Dietz is sure that the ill-conceived 92 percent AFUE furnace rule is dead. All DOE would have accomplished with that move, which ignored human nature and basic economics, was to ensure that no gas furnaces would be sold in the South ever again. Dietz likened the 92 percent AFUE rule to the 13 SEER residential air conditioning rule that crippled replacement sales so badly that it took eight years for sales to return to their prior levels.
AHRI plans to be talking with DOE appointees once they are on the job. Dietz’ educated guess is that DOE will start over on the furnace rule, issuing a Request For Information followed by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Or, DOE could negotiate a rule under the Appliance Standard and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee. The walk-in coolers and freezers rule was a negotiated rule.
“This action provides an opportunity for us to discuss with the new DOE staff the various processes by which energy efficiency rules are developed,” Yurek said. “The walk-in coolers and freezers rule was negotiated and its provisions were agreed to by all stakeholders, including AHRI. The rule establishing the test procedure for [walk-in coolers and freezers], however, was not negotiated, and neither was the commercial boiler rule — both were developed with minimal interaction with stakeholders. Consequently, we have many concerns about those two rules and will likely be seeking significant changes if and when they are redeveloped.”
This moratorium does not mean these and other rules will never be issued, only that they will be delayed for review and potential alteration.
But, Yurek said that, “Under the law, DOE is only required to review these and other rules, not make changes to them. It is entirely possible that this administration will choose to merely leave current efficiency levels in place for some products.”