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Ceiling Fan Makers Strive to Block Efficiency Rules They Once Sought

The House fanned an old debate this week by adopting a provision that would block the Energy Department from setting energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans.

Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn offered the policy rider to the Energy-Water appropriations bill (HR 2609), saying companies such as Memphis, Tenn.-based Hunter Fans cannot afford burdensome regulations that would drive up the price of products. The amendment, which would block funding for writing the regulations, was adopted by voice vote.

But it was the industry itself that sought a national energy efficiency standard nearly a decade ago. At the time, three states — California, Maryland and New York — had enacted their own standards. Seeking to avoid a hodgepodge of regulations across states, the industry turned to the federal government.

Now, some of those companies are lobbying against an update of that standard.

“It means you have neither state nor federal standards,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “It breaks the fundamental deal.”

His group worked in a coalition with Home Depot, a fan manufacturer and seller, and other fan companies in 2005 to include a mandate for national standards as part of a comprehensive energy law (PL 109-58).

The coalition agreed to a modest standard that reflected the industry’s status quo on energy efficiency, deLaski said in an interview. His group went along with the agreement because it required the Energy Department to review the standard every six years and update it. Now, deLaski said he is “a little surprised to see them seek an amendment to defund the process.”

The 2005 law — enacted by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush — gave the Energy Department authority to regulate the energy efficiency level of ceiling fans. It codified some energy saving features, such as multiple speed settings. As part of the compromise, it also allowed the Energy secretary to exempt highly decorative fans, which the industry argues are purchased more for their appearance than their utility.

The law also requires the agency to review the rules every six years, a process the department initiated earlier this year. The process is in its initial phase, and the agency has not yet laid out how it would update the rules. An updated standard is expected in 2015 with a potential effective date of 2018.

Echoes of Other Debates

Hunter Fans has filed comments opposing the process, saying additional regulations could increase costs beyond what consumers are willing to pay. Manufacturers argue that ceiling fans are inherently energy efficient and that driving up the cost might push customers to turn to greater energy consumers, such as air conditioning, to cool their homes. The company has suggested that regulations be delayed “until there are further advances in fan technology.”

Blackburn, whose district once included Hunter Fans and now sits adjacent to it, said expanded regulations could prevent the company from producing reasonably priced, highly decorative fans. She likened the Energy Department’s proposal to the health care law and other Obama administration policies.

“First, they came for our health care,” she said on the House floor. “Then they took away our light bulbs, and raided our nation’s most iconic guitar company — now they are coming after our ceiling fans. Nothing is safe from the Obama administration’s excessive regulatory tentacles.”

Blackburn was joined in offering the amendment by Indiana Republican Todd Rokita, whose district is home to the ceiling fan manufacturer Fanimation Inc. The company’s leaders launched a nationwide campaign this spring to build public opposition to efficiency regulations.

“The Department of Energy’s proposed regulations on ceiling fans are absolutely counterproductive,” Rokita said. “They will encourage more energy consumption, they will reduce consumer choice and they have the potential to destroy jobs, including in Indiana.”

Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur argued that the amendment would undercut the mandate the Energy Department was given under the 2005 energy law. She said the Energy Department estimates that ceiling fan efficiency rules could reduce carbon output by 22 million metric tons and save consumers $4.3 billion in energy costs through 2030.

“I know that there’s a Hunter Fan Company located in Memphis, Tenn., so I imagine the gentlelady may be speaking on their behalf,” Kaptur said, in a reference to Blackburn. “That’s OK. That’s what we’re all here for. But the consumers out there also have a right to try to buy the most energy-efficient product.”

Energy efficiency proponents counter that Blackburn and the companies are acting prematurely and that safeguards are in place to protect the industry from unreasonable costs. In order to amend the standard, the Energy Department has to find that improved standards are technologically feasible and economically justified.

“New standards could save consumers a lot of money,” deLaski said. “You won’t know until you go through a public rule-making process. To deny that is a mistake.”

His group and the Alliance to Save Energy, which favors stronger energy standards, plan to fight the ceiling fan provision when the Senate when it takes up its version of spending bill (S 1245). The Senate measure reported out of committee is vastly different from the House measure, which the White House has threatened to veto.

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