The DOE talks tough... sort of.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has made a myriad of promises and some encouraging steps toward establishing more robust energy efficiency standards, but all this tough talk will be meaningless if they can't legally enforce new regulations in a consistent and fair manner.

Keeping this in mind, you can see why I would be skeptical when I saw the Department's announcement about “strengthening energy efficiency enforcement." Sure, the title sounded promising “Department of Energy Announces Steps to Strengthen Enforcement of Energy Efficiency Standards,” but is announcing steps to make something happen really news? Does it give us any useful news on the DOE's energy efficiency plan or, date I say it, is it just part of the DOE PR machine?

The only way to find out, at least in my opinion, is to get to the core of what the release says and be realistic. Let’s dig in:

1)    “The Obama Administration has released five appliance efficiency standards ahead of deadlines.  These five standards will save over 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide once in effect.  Over the next 30 years, they will save Americans an estimated $250 - $300 billion.”

What this means: They’re ahead of schedule on outlining efficiency standards for appliances, including products like freezers and AC units, which could save billions over three decades. The projections are promising, but we still don’t really know what impact these standards will really have, especially over the next thirty years.

2)    “The steps announced today include the formation of an enforcement team within the Office of the General Counsel.”

What this means: They’ve established a fleet of U.S. lawyers with years of litigation and regulation experience, who will be reporting directly to the General Counsel. This is good, but it’s just a bunch of suits in a room if it doesn’t have the capacity to legally review, prosecute and punish violators of DOE regulations.

3)    “The Department announced a program to randomly review manufacturers’ compliance with DOE certification requirements.”

What this means: Plans are in place to have a program where the enforcement team can randomly select manufacturers – those who make products that fall under the DOE’s regulations – and review their certifications and records, punishing those who haven’t followed efficiency standards and, as a result, may gain an unfair advantage.

4)    “The Department issued guidance further detailing its energy efficiency enforcement regulations.”

What this means: The DOE will use specific guidelines, which can be found on the DOE Web site, to outline the expectations for manufacturers. The issue is that the guidelines aren’t that easy to find, they aren’t that clear and they only cover certain appliances, so it doesn’t seem like it will have that broad of an impact down the line.

This announcement seems to raise more questions than it answers and feels a lot like a "filler" release, meant to fill space rather than inform. What do you think?  Will the random reviews really dissuade manufacturers from cheating? If it’s only for a few covered products, will these guidelines matter at all? Will a team of litigators help make key steps toward improved, enforced efficiency standards? Only time will tell. At present, anyway, I think the DOE has bigger energy issues to contend with, such as mounting problems with coal-fired power plants, so perhaps punishing AC or freezer manufacturers for incorrect certification should take a back least for a while.

To read more on the DOE’s regulations and enforcement team click here.

Contributed by: Gretchen Doores    Follow her @canadiangal84