Federal Court Upholds Energy Efficiency Standards for Small Motors

In a move expected to save the need to build an estimated eight power plants, the 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled yesterday in favor of a regulation establishing energy efficiency standards for small electric motors. Motors covered by the rule include exhaust fans, blowers, conveyors, compressors, sump pumps and pool pumps. The decision rejected a challenge by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) to efficiency standards in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act.
The decision directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to set the strongest efficiency standards technologically feasible and economically justified for small electric motors for 0.25 to 3 horsepower. A large energy savings will result from the application of the efficiency standards to hundreds of thousands of products annually.
Friend of the Court filer Earthjustice's attorney David Baron said the decision "upholds a federal rule that's expected to save about 2 percent of total annual US energy consumption over the next 30 years." "This is good news for Americans" he said, "because energy efficiency is the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to reduce our energy consumption, save money and promote a clean renewable energy future."
The appeal, a petition for review of a Department of Energy order by NEMA, was argued on May 12, 2011. NEMA said the Department of Energy’s efficiency rules excluded motors exceeding 1 horsepower, from being regulated as small electric motors. The DOE had issued the rules on March 9, 2010, setting standards for electric motors with a power rating between 0.25 to 3 horsepower, setting a date of March 9, 2015 for compliance with the rules. NEMA's petition for review called for elimination of the efficiency rules based on its interpretation of DOE's classification of differently sized motors. NEMA argued that the rules limit the horsepower of affected small electrical motors.
The court found that despite NEMA's position the efficiency rules do not unambiguously limit horsepower as NEMA suggests. It found that the efficiency rules not only "lack an express horsepower limitation" but they also "limit only the maximum and not the minimum, horsepower."
A dissenting member of the thee Judge panel wrote in his dissenting opinion "We should reject DOE's position because it alters the fundamental relationship between Congress and the bureaucracy" in its interpretation of the legislative history of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. His opinion of the relationship between Congressional legislation and Department of Energy  rulemaking did not prevail. He remarks in a footnote "I do not believe the majority has been "hoodwinked"....I merely point out that the majority has accepted DOE's...position on how to read the statutory definition."
In its role as the agency implementing energy legislation the Department of Energy's small motor efficiency rule will work to the economic benefit of power users and reduce the need for emissions-producing power generation. Small machine efficiency will improve and the nation will have taken a step forward towards incorporating Energy Efficiency in its daily way of life.
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I am a Seattle-based writer. Energy efficiency and the achievement of human potential are my goals. I have worked as a legislative aide and a database manager, and recently started building a money- and energy-saving household goods online store featuring sensible and affordable home environment solutions including ENERGY STAR qualified products. Contact: Twitter: @Greenbespoke @SaveWattsatHome