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SCIENCE FILE

Blown U.S. deadlines bloat utility bills, inquiry finds

The Energy Dept. was to tighten rules on appliance efficiency.

March 03, 2007|Robert Lee Hotz | Times Staff Writer

Over the last three decades, the federal government has missed legal deadlines for setting stricter efficiency standards for common appliances, resulting in billions of dollars in higher utility bills and millions more tons of the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming, congressional investigators reported.

All told, the Department of Energy has missed every one of 34 mandatory rule-making deadlines for setting minimum energy efficiency standards involving 20 products including refrigerators, dishwashers, freezers, pool heaters, furnaces and central air conditioners, analysts at the Government Accountability Office reported.

The delays ranged from a few months to 15 years, according to the GAO report made public this week. Of the 34 energy efficiency standards, 24 have yet to be set, involving 17 household and industrial product categories.

"I have never seen anything like this," said GAO analyst Karla Springer, who led the group that prepared the report. "It is nearly 30 years of not meeting a deadline. It is kind of frightening."

Congress is about to consider new measures to control the emission of heat-trapping greenhouses gases, including stricter energy efficiency standards to reduce use of carbon-rich oil, coal and natural gas.

Analysts at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory calculated that the missed deadlines for just four of the more popular appliances would ultimately cost consumers at least $28 billion in forgone energy savings -- equivalent to the annual primary energy consumption of about 20 million households.

The delays will also result in 53 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, about the same as 1% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2004, the analysts reported.

"These missed deadlines have cost our nation more than we can afford," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which commissioned the audit.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) called the missed deadlines the product of "a culture of incompetence and delay."

Since 1975, the Energy Department has been required to set minimum energy efficiency standards for many consumer products. The standards that have been set so far will save enough energy to operate all U.S. homes for more than two years, Energy Department officials said.

Department officials vowed this week to eliminate their backlog by 2011, though such an effort would require six times as much work with little or no increase in staff.

The GAO analysts were skeptical. The Energy Department, they said, has no way to ensure that anyone is held accountable for deadlines.

"They say they are going to do it," Springer said. "They said they were going to do it before."

lee.hotz@latimes.com

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