A Free-Market Energy Blog

Energy Efficiency Policy Under Trump (Part I: A Mixed Bag in the Swamp)

By -- December 8, 2020

“DOE acknowledged that if non-condensing gas appliances were eliminated, there would likely be extensive problems (e.g., economics and safety); especially in the case of existing buildings whose venting systems are not designed for lower vent temperatures associated with condensing furnaces and water heaters.”

“… an undersurface administrative state has steadily entrenched its ‘virtuous cycle’ for energy efficiency that limits consumer choice and costs them dearly.”

While hopes were high for the Trump Administration to provide common-sense, market-based regulatory reform at all levels of the Federal government, the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) fell short. There have been some relatively bright spots, and maybe more to come in the next weeks. But the performance of Trump’s appointees to EERE was meh.

The underwhelming performance can be attributed in part to a very late start getting new appointments. Another reason is the sheer inertia of an army of bureaucrats and technocrats with a multi-billion-dollar budget doing what should not be done. (Market reliance, anyone?) And for the free market appointees, get-along-rather-than-rock-the-boat was proved self-interested. [1]

Bright Spots

One bright spot was holding back many (but not all) new Final Rules for more stringent appliance efficiency standards initiated (but not completed) during the Obama Administration. 

Likewise, some modest improvements were made in EERE’s overhaul of its processes for determining the need for new appliance efficiency standards.  However, these improvements are being litigated. 

Another example was the expedited granting of a petition for quicker dishwashers submitted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Consequently, EERE is presently considering a new rule allowing for a new class of dishwashers that would need only an hour to finish a cycle.  

A similar rule has recently been initiated for clothes washers and dryers.  EERE is also considering a “no new standards” rule for direct heating equipment. (i.e., portable heaters).

There is also the case of a (still pending) “gas industry” petition that EERE presently claims to be inclined to grant.  This petition was the subject of two MasterResource articles last month:

The essence of this petition and EERE’s “tentative” inclination for approval rests on common sense. DOE acknowledged that if non-condensing gas appliances were eliminated, there would likely be extensive problems (e.g., economics and safety); especially in the case of existing buildings whose venting systems are not designed for lower vent temperatures associated with condensing furnaces and water heaters.

Back to (a Bad) Normal?

But the clock appears to be running-out. And anything actually done can potentially be undone by by a new Administration harking back to previous “considerations” and “tentative” conclusions. Additionally, Final Rules are subject to legal appeal under the Administrative Procedures Act, and/or expedited elimination by an incoming Congress under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Meanwhile, not much has materially changed within EERE’s bureaucracy at face value. Both EERE’s mission statement and strategic plan have not been modified since the Obama Administration. 

Perhaps such appearances of regulatory stasis can be deceiving. And maybe a few “speedbumps” were placed to curb bureaucratic penchants to increase regulations that I’m simply unaware of. What I am aware of is an undersurface administrative state that has steadily entrenched its “virtuous cycle” for energy efficiency that limits consumer choice and costs them dearly. In other words, the perpetuation of regulatory failure by design.

The Old Guard Protests

The following article describes how differently the energy efficiency advocates see these (apparently) closing days of EERE under the Trump Administration: Trump ‘midnight regulations’ may hinder Biden efforts to advance energy efficiency, advocates say.  Excerpt:

Also in the pipeline is a rule requested by the gas industy that deLaski said could “make it impossible for a future DOE to make big strides on efficiency of gas furnaces and water heaters.” There are also final rules on showerheads, washers and dryers and dishwashers, that efficiency advocates have opposed and which are now heading towards completion.

As much as I might wish that deLaski’s statements were accurate, it seems nearly certain to me that no such outgoing naked vandalism of energy efficiency will occur. Rather, such statements are a fear mongering canard for donations to deLaski’s advocacy organizations.

Since “the devils are in the details,” the following covers some more in-depth issues (and regulatory history) regarding what EERE arguably did accomplish and what it has not to deregulate.

Part II tomorrow will examine EERE’s process rule and overhaul thereof.


[1] Alex Fitzsimmons left the free-market Institute for Energy Research to become Chief of Staff for another IER alumnus, Assistant Secretary for EERE Daniel Simmons. Promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary at EERE, Fitzsimmons recently joined ClearPath as Senior Program Director.

ClearPath, a front “conservative” group funded with Left money, advocates “greater support for global warming policies and environmentalism” with a mission of “electing Republicans to office who support government support for solar and wind energy and to insert planks fighting against climate change into the platform of the Republican Party.” What is good for Fitzsimmons is bad for energy policy and the common good.


Mark Krebs, a mechanical engineer and energy policy analyst has been involved with energy efficiency design and program evaluation for more than thirty years.  He has served as an expert witness in dozens of State energy efficiency proceedings and submitted scores of Federal energy-efficiency filings.  Mark’s first article was in the Public Utilities Fortnightly titled “It’s a War Out There: A Gas Man Questions Electric Efficiency” (December 1996). For more about by Mark, see his MasterResource archive.



    Mark, this is an excellent recap of what’s taken place over the past four years, and shows just how intransigent the efficiency crowd is. Truth be told, were it not for anti-backsliding provisions currently in statute, most of the existing efficiency standards would likely be found not cost justified, much less more stringent ones, as fuel prices have dropped by factors of 2-4, thanks to, in large measure, the advent of horizontal drilling and that technology that shall not be named. While BTUs of diminishing value are worshipped by the standards crowd, equally important (nay superior) public values (affordability, safety and reliability) are ignored, Next thing you know, DOE et.al. will propose nuclear power to fuel semi trucks delivering TP to stores ravaged by COVID crazed hoarders. Oh, wait…


  2. Mark Krebs  

    “But wait! There’s more”….(attributed to Ron Popeil)

    Result searching for nuclear-powered EVs

    Could Argonne’s mini nuclear reactor solve the e-truck recharging dilemma?


  3. Mark Krebs  

    According to OMB’s reginfo.org, the gas industry petition is under review as a Final Rule (as of December 4). However, there are many ways this petition can be thwarted by statist elements; not all of which are identified above.

    For more info: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/eoDetails?rrid=131495


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