The Biden administration is not known for its light-handed regulatory touch, and so we should not be surprised that its efforts have included unhelpful initiatives targeting nearly every major household appliance. Perhaps worst of all for homeowners are the proposed regulations for new natural-gas furnaces.
Specifically, the Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed stringent new energy-efficiency standards for these furnaces — so stringent that conventional non-condensing furnaces would effectively be outlawed in favor of condensing versions. The big difference between the two is that a condensing furnace has a second heat exchanger that takes some of the heat that otherwise would have gone out with the exhaust and utilizes it, making for a more efficient system. Sounds great — except that doing so can make it harder to vent the exhaust. Depending on a home’s configuration, the switch to a condensing furnace may entail thousands of dollars in additional installation costs on top of a purchase price that is hundreds of dollars higher than a comparable non-condensing model. Older and space-constrained homes would be the hardest hit, thus the proposed rule may disproportionately burden low-income homeowners.
For some homes, the switch to a condensing furnace may be impractical or even impossible at any cost. Note that there’s little room for error, as any failure to properly vent the exhaust raises health and safety issues.
That said, condensing furnaces are the preferred choice for a growing number of homeowners, and in fact most newly constructed homes are designed to accommodate them. But for the untold millions who own older homes, one size does not fit all, and non-condensing furnaces are still the best option.
Fortunately, the statute under which the DOE sets these rules, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, expressly forbids the agency from setting standards so strict as to sacrifice any feature of value to consumers. As the Competitive Enterprise Institute and 13 other free-market organizations detailed in a regulatory comment to DOE, the agency has clearly failed to heed this requirement. If the final rule turns out to be as bad as the proposed version, it will be vulnerable to a legal challenge.
It is important to emphasize that these kinds of appliance mandates have no upside for consumers, only downside. Any homeowner who wants a condensing furnace will always be free to choose one, with or without meddling by Washington. The only thing federal regulations do is force this particular choice on everyone, like it or not.
As with many of the more questionable Biden administration measures, the proposed furnace-efficiency rule is linked to the climate agenda. Though the proposed new efficiency standard is ostensibly for the benefit of consumers, DOE also estimates that it would deliver more than $1 billion per year in climate-change benefits as a result of reduced energy use and therefore lower greenhouse-gas emissions. This number is based on a long chain of exaggerated assumptions — including reliance on climate models with a track record for significantly overstating actual temperature increases while also inflating the likely economic damage from the predicted warming. In reality, the proposed rule’s effect on future temperatures will almost certainly be too small to detect and far too small to make any difference. And in any event, the consumer protections built into the law forbid the DOE from putting any environmental agenda ahead of the best interests of consumers.
Others see the proposed rule as part of the climate-change-inspired agenda to move away from natural-gas use. Environmental activists have made clear their disdain for residential natural-gas usage in favor of electrifying everything they can, and the Biden administration has repeatedly expressed support for this agenda. This includes the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act, which provides $4.5 billion (up to $14,000 per home) in incentives for homeowners choosing new electric appliances rather than natural-gas ones. It is entirely possible that the true goal of the DOE’s proposed rule is not to push millions of owners of non-condensing natural-gas furnaces toward more efficient condensing versions so much as to induce them to give up natural gas entirely in favor of electric heating. This despite the DOE’s conceding that natural gas has historically been more than three times cheaper on a per-unit energy basis. So much for putting consumers first.
Read the full article at National Review.