Groups Challenge DOE Efficiency Standards in Court

A panel of federal judges heard arguments on March 9 in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy to adopt stronger energy efficiency standards for electricity distribution transformers, the gray boxes mounted on utility poles all over the country.

Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed the lawsuit in December 2007, arguing that the standards DOE adopted in October 2007 were too weak, in part because DOE illegally failed to account for the monetary benefits of reducing carbon dioxide pollution when setting the standards. The California Attorney General's office filed a similar lawsuit.

"This case provides a clear example of how crucial it is that our nation adopt the strongest possible energy efficiency standards," said Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo, who argued the case in court. "Distribution transformers contribute millions of tons of global warming pollution. The DOE can make good on their charge while achieving tremendous energy and cost savings."

"The Bush administration rejected mandatory limits on global warming pollution in favor of solving the problem through other means, such as energy efficiency standards," said David B. Goldstein, co-director of NRDC's energy program. "And yet DOE's efficiency standards for distribution transformers are incredibly weak, in part because DOE did not take into account the benefits of reducing global warming pollution. DOE is missing a huge opportunity to reduce pollution at a profit. We can't afford to miss any opportunities to reduce heat-trapping emissions, much less an opportunity this big."

The nation's 40 million distribution transformers reduce electricity voltage to the levels needed to power homes and businesses. Because of their ubiquity and because all power travels through one or more transformers, greater efficiency offers substantial energy savings. According to DOE estimates, requiring all new transformers to achieve the same efficiency levels as the best units currently on the market would eliminate the need for nearly 20 large new power plants by 2038.

Utility companies, the primary purchasers of these transformers, have also called for more efficient standards, citing the more than $9 billion the industry could save. But, under the previous administration, DOE disregarded stronger standards supported by both utility and environmental groups when it adopted its regulations, the groups said in a press release.