The Department of Energy (DOE) gets a failing grade when it comes to meeting its statutory obligation to issue rules on minimum energy efficiency standards for consumer products and industrial equipment, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The poor performance could cost the nation billions in lost savings, it said.

The department has missed all 34 of the deadlines for rulemakings that have come due for the 20 consumer products and industrial equipment categories, the GAO said in the report, which was issued Thursday. "Of the 34 rules with missed deadlines, 11 were issued late and the other 23 have not been issued at all," it noted. The deadline delays ranged from two months to 15 years.

"Overall, all required rulemakings have been set for only three product categories with deadlines: 1) refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers and freezers; 2) small furnaces; and 3) clothes washers, the congressional watchdog agency said.

"DOE has yet to set all required rules for 17 additional categories such as -- for consumer products -- kitchen ranges and ovens, dishwashers, clothes dryers, hot water heaters and -- for industrial equipment -- various electric motors and electric distribution transformers," the GAO said. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has calculated DOE's delays in the rules for the four cited consumer product categories will cost the nation an estimated $28 billion in foregone savings by 2030, the report noted.

Under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), Congress mandated deadlines for DOE to issue rules that set minimum efficiency standards for most consumer product categories. Congress also made manufacturers' compliance with the standards mandatory. The law called for the department to establish standards through the federal rulemaking process.

The causes for the deadline delays at DOE weren't clearly apparent. "Neither DOE nor our panel could agree on, and we could not definitively determine, the root causes of the delay," the GAO report said.

And "it is unclear whether DOE's latest plan for clearing its backlog of rulemakings will effectively bring its minimum energy efficiency standards up to date," the GAO noted.

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