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Winner Loses

November 05, 1986

Reddy Kilowatt and almost everyone else supported the proposed National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1986. It passed Congress unanimously with the extraordinary support of appliance makers, conservationists, big utilities and even the Department of Energy. The chairman of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Assn. said that the bill "makes everyone a winner."

But this good-news story ended abruptly at the White House door when President Reagan killed the measure with a pocket veto. Puzzled and angry supporters of the bill could only conclude that the veto was one of pure ideology. Whatever the reason, the new Congress should promptly pass the bill again.

In his veto message the President said that the legislation would dictate energy-efficiency standards for home appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners without regard to technological feasibility or economic justification.

In fact, the benefits of such standards have been amply demonstrated in California, where they have existed for nearly 10 years. Other states have followed California's lead. The new appliances use 25% to 50% less energy than older models do.The federal law would have saved consumers an estimated $28 billion over the life of appliances sold in the next 20 years, and eliminated the need for the equivalent of 22 new electric-power units.

The President said that the bill would mandate more onerous federal regulations.

In fact, current law requires the Department of Energy to set such rules. The department consistently has refused to do so, but now has been ordered to by the courts.

The President said that the new rules would make appliances too expensive.

In fact, the rules would give customers a greater selection and price range for appliances. More than one-third of all new appliances are sold to home builders and landlords who have no personal incentive to purchase energy-efficient models.

The President said that the federal law would intrude on the free market and the states' ability to set their own standards.

In fact, the manufacturers lobbied for one national standard, in preference to the proliferation of varying rules being set by the states. The California Energy Commission supported the bill even though it might preempt some of its standards now set for the early 1990s.

This idea makes too much sense to die. Congress should zap it back to life in January, and override another veto if necessary.

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