by Bob Egelko, SF Chronicle
A federal judge in San Francisco ordered President Trump’s administration on Thursday to end a one-year delay on rules developed by the Obama administration to combat climate change by tightening energy-efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, building heaters and other appliances.
The proposed rules were issued by President Barack Obama’s Energy Department in December 2016 and were due to take effect the following March. But Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, has prevented their enforcement by declining to publish them in the Federal Register, and argued in court that his agency has no obligation to do so.
That refusal “is a violation of the department’s duties” under federal law, said U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who ordered the department to publish the rules within 28 days.
Chhabria said he would consider putting his ruling on hold if the Energy Department appealed. The agency said it was “looking into next steps” and declined further comment.
The ruling is “good for consumers, good for the environment and good for the United States,” said Kit Kennedy, director of the climate and clean-energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which led environmental groups suing the Energy Department.
“The stakes could not be higher,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who filed a separate suit along with 11 other states, New York City and Washington, D.C. “Climate change is the most important global environmental issue of our time,” and the new energy-saving standards would reduce climate-changing pollution, he said.
Obama’s Energy Department said the new standards would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 99 million tons over 30 years — the equivalent of taking 705,000 cars a year off the road — and save consumers and businesses $8.4 billion.
The standards apply to floor-standing portable air conditioners, commercial boilers that heat office and apartment buildings, air compressors that power various tools, and battery chargers that provide backup power supplies for electronic products.
Federal law requires the Energy Department to set energy-saving standards for specific categories of appliances and then to update them every six years. According to the lawsuits, the department last updated its standards for commercial boilers in 2009 but has no current standards for the other appliances.
Perry’s Energy Department could propose its own efficiency standards — but the law would prohibit the department from weakening the Obama rules once they went into effect, said Kennedy of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Perry’s department, joined by a trade group called the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, argued that a new administration has authority to “continue to assess, modify, or withdraw” rules drafted by a previous administration rather than putting them into effect as written.
But Chhabria said once the rules have undergone full review and are drafted for publication, the law allows only correction of technical errors and then requires prompt publication.
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