Take all the things you've heard about government — how it is slow to act, inept, not thorough, etc. — and throw it out the window. Yes, there are parts of government, at all levels, that have one or more of those attributes, but there is one department of the federal government that is determined to show the nation it means business when it comes to enforcing federal energy-efficiency regulations.
I'm referring to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the agency charged with enforcing federal appliance-efficiency standards and the one we at the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) interact with on a daily basis.
Let me give some background. The DOE has a new general counsel, Scott Harris, who, admirably enough, has made it his mission to ensure that his department effectively and efficiently enforces federal efficiency rules. Therefore, the DOE has started to enforce minimum federal appliance efficiency standards, as well as its regulations that require manufacturers to certify compliance with applicable standards before distributing products in commerce, aggressively.
AHRI has no problem with enforcement — in fact, we welcome it and want to be as helpful as possible to make sure the DOE has the information it needs to do the job right. We appreciate how open and aboveboard DOE and its general counsel have been in communicating their intent in this matter. In fact, Mr. Harris addressed members at the AHRI Spring Meeting in April and spent considerable time discussing the DOE's intentions and strategy for accomplishing its enforcement mission.
AHRI's position is clear: A marketplace where product efficiency is rigorously enforced is good for our members, who spend a great deal of time and money getting their products certified.
DOE regulations allow manufacturers to use a third party, such as AHRI, to submit certification reports to the DOE on their behalf. For years, AHRI has been doing just that, on behalf of our certification-program participants, both AHRI members and non-members alike, through periodic submissions of product-performance information from the AHRI Directory of Certified Products.
A couple of months ago this traditional reporting method was found to be unsatisfactory by the DOE because, in its view, it doesn't ensure that the DOE has the required certification information before the product is distributed in commerce. Moreover, DOE staff members say they don't want to have to parse the filings for new product listings. Instead, DOE now is requiring that AHRI provide daily reports, confined to new and re-rated product models.
We are working to program our directory and databases to meet these requirements. We also continue to meet with the DOE, and those meetings have been cordial and productive. We are not, however, where we need to be.
In the past few months, the DOE has issued several violation letters to manufacturers for errors in the reporting of certified information. Aggressively enforcing administrative and reporting errors and issuing press releases that damage manufacturer reputations before clarifying the facts concerns us and our members. We hoped the DOE would focus its enforcement actions on finding and removing from the market products that failed to meet the minimum federal standards or performed below the level claimed by the manufacturer.
We favor federal enforcement of energy-efficiency standards. Enforcement is good for the industry and for consumers — the same reasons manufacturers established and have continued to participate in AHRI certification programs for more than 50 years.
What we regret is the DOE's level of mistrust of manufacturers: Our members can't be relied on to provide accurate information, even when that information is verified by an independent source — information that has been provided to the DOE, without incident, for decades.
Here's hoping that as the temperatures rise in these summer months, cooler heads will prevail and we — industry and government — will work together to ensure that federal energy-efficiency standards work for all Americans.
Stephen R. Yurek is president and chief executive officer of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). AHRI is the trade association representing manufacturers of HVACR equipment manufactured and sold in North America. For more information about the association, go to www.ahrinet.org.
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