Congress takes on anti-consumer furnace regulation

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CEI suggested five bad appliance regulations Congress should reject with the Congressional Review Act last November. Now, Congress has taken up the first target on our list – the new Department of Energy (DOE) energy efficiency regulation for residential furnaces. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-MN) are to be applauded for spearheading this important anti-regulatory effort on behalf of homeowners.

As we detailed in our October 5, 2022 coalition comment to DOE opposing the rule, the new efficiency standards would serve to deprive millions of homeowners of the furnace type best suited to them. Specifically, the rule effectively outlaws non-condensing natural gas furnaces in favor of condensing ones. Condensing furnaces are more energy efficient than non-condensing models, but they have installation and venting needs that simply make them a poor choice for many homes. This is especially the case for older and space-constrained homes disproportionately owned by low income households. In such homes, replacing a non-condensing furnace with a condensing model would entail substantial additional installation costs, and in some cases could not be done safely at any cost.

Indeed, the switch from non-condensing to condensing gas furnace can be so difficult and costly that some homeowners may be forced to abandon gas heat entirely and shift to electric heat. In this way, the DOE rule is part of the Biden Administration’s climate change agenda, a major component of which is to wean Americans off natural gas appliances and towards the electrification of everything. But doing so deprives consumers of the most affordable energy choice – even DOE admits that natural gas is at least three times cheaper than electricity on a per unit energy basis.

DOE’s regulation eliminating non-condensing furnaces is not just bad policy but also bad law. As CEI also noted in our regulatory comment, the statute that authorizes DOE’s efficiency standards program expressly forbids any standard that compromises product quality, features, and choice. In other words, the agency does not have the authority to regulate non-condensing gas furnaces out of existence, and this is one of the reasons why a lawsuit has been launched against the rule. However, litigation can drag out for years before a final resolution is reached.

Fortunately, Congress is fighting back right now with bills to block the furnace foolishness. Pursuant to the Congressional Review Act, Cruz has introduced a Resolution of Disapproval in the Senate, identical to the one introduced by Fischbach on the House side. They would repeal DOE’s furnace rule and prevent the agency from ever finalizing anything substantially similar in the future.

It is important to note that there is no downside to blocking furnace regulations. With or without such rules, manufacturers will continue to make condensing gas furnaces as well as electric options. The only thing DOE’s rule accomplishes is take away the option of a non-condensing gas furnace for homeowners that want one.

Of course, any such bills will have to be signed into law by President Biden, and he has thus far shown little appetite for admitting when his regulators have gone too far, especially when it comes to his overarching climate agenda. Nonetheless, this is a good debate to have, and let’s hope that the Congressional effort to stop the furnace rule is repeated for other bad regulations targeting air-conditioners, stoves, dishwashers, washing machines, and ceiling fans.