Obama wants appliances to use less energy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the Energy Department to set energy efficiency standards for a broad range of common household appliances, which will save Americans billions of dollars in electrical costs and reduce power plant emissions.

President Barack Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, February 5, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing

The department was charged with slashing the energy use of more than 30 product categories.

When the standards are fully implemented, the estimated energy savings over the next 30 years would equal the output of all current coal-fired electric generating plants in the United States for two years and save Americans more than $500 billion in electric bills.

“This will save consumers money. This will spur innovation and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy,” Obama said during a visit to the Energy Department.

Increasing energy efficiency is part of Obama’s plan to revamp U.S. energy policy and address global climate change.

“With this announcement, the Obama administration reaffirmed its commitment to repower America with clean energy that will jump-start the economy, strengthen our energy security and help solve our climate crisis,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For the short term, the department was ordered to set energy efficiency rules by August for nine appliances, including ovens, lamps, microwaves, vending machines, dishwashers, commercial boilers and air conditioning units.

The department was directed to complete ahead of schedule those appliance standards that would give consumers the biggest energy savings.

The push to make appliances in the United States more efficient began in 1970s as various states set their own energy criteria for appliances. In the late 1980s, Congress established national minimum efficiency standards for appliances such as refrigerators and water heaters.

Congress gave the Energy Department the responsibility for reviewing and issuing new efficiency standards. The department has regularly missed statutory deadlines to set efficiency standards over the years, however.

A U.S. District Court approved rolling deadlines for backlogged standards in 2006, after environmental groups and 14 states sued the Bush administration for not meeting efficiency deadlines.

Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Christian Wiessner