A federal court ruled that the Trump administration acted unlawfully in rolling back an energy efficiency rule in favor of one manufacturer of central air conditioners, Johnson Controls International, to the detriment of consumers, the environment, and other manufacturers. In our case filed on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York declared the rollback “arbitrary and capricious.”

The Court also admonished the Department of Energy for relying solely on the request of JCI to halt a rule that would prevent JCI and other manufacturers from selling energy-inefficient home air conditioning units without satisfying DOE’s efficiency-testing requirements.

DOE spent nearly a decade refining energy efficiency standards for central air conditioners through negotiation with industry, environmental advocates, and consumer representatives. One piece of that effort, the closing of a loophole that allowed certain replacement air conditioners to avoid meeting the efficiency standards, was finalized on January 5, 2017, at the end of the Obama administration and was supported by NRDC, AHRI, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. Closing the loophole would have resulted in lower utility bills for consumers and decreased pollution from power plants.

One month later, on February 5, 2017, the Trump administration began delaying the loophole-closing rule. Three separate delays culminated in an open-ended suspension in July 2017.

We argued on behalf of NRDC that the Administrative Procedure Act provision relied on by DOE to issue the delay does not allow an agency to suspend a rule that is already in effect—as DOE did. Moreover, DOE failed to give a sufficient explanation justifying its action, as it is required to do.

Court says the Trump administration was determined to roll back energy efficiency testing rule in favor of Johnson Controls International “through any means available”

The Court’s ruling said the agency’s unlawful actions were designed to singularly benefit JCI at the expense of American consumers. As the Court noted late Friday, there was widespread industry opposition to delaying the rule any further. The industry trade group Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute explicitly told DOE it “was not seeking to delay or rescind the [Rule].”

The Court noted that the administration was determined to act in JCI’s favor “through any means available.” Two days before the court was scheduled to hear arguments in this case, DOE attempted to moot the litigation by withdrawing the delay rule and instead granting JCI a waiver exemption to the energy-saving rule. The administration’s effort led the court to find that “it is reasonable to expect that DOE may reissue a delay of the [Rule] at any time it feels that JCI’s exemption is threatened.” The Court also found that the administration’s actions late in the matter “suggest[] an intent to thwart the Court’s jurisdiction.”

“This is a victory not only for consumers and the environment, but for the basic rule of law,” said Jeffrey Dubner, Democracy Forward Senior Counsel. “The Trump administration has once again been caught bending the rules for corporate interests and been held to account.”