2002 Scorecard Vote
Air conditioning represents a major share of peak power demand in urban areas on hot days--as much as 70 percent in Houston for example. Improving the efficiency of air conditioning can bring enormous benefits to the environment by reducing power plant emissions that cause acid rain, mercury contamination, and climate change. Greater efficiency can significantly reduce power shortages in highly populated areas, potentially making the difference between a stable power supply and an ongoing series of blackouts and brownouts.
In the closing days of the Clinton administration, the Energy Department issued a new regulation that required a 30 percent increase in the minimum energy efficiency standard for central air conditioners and heat pumps--a level already available in current models from every major manufacturer. By the time President Bush entered office, this regulation had already been finalized, but it nevertheless was one of the rules scrutinized by the new administration for its impact on industry. Soon thereafter, the Department of Energy abandoned the rule, and proposed a new rule that would raise the efficiency standard by only 20 percent.
Conservationists maintain that this lower standard would require the construction of 45 more power plants over the next 20 years, consume another 14,500 megawatts of electricity, cost consumers an additional $1 billion on their electric bills and send an extra 2.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) opposed the lower standard and mandated a 30 percent increase in air conditioner efficiency in the Senate energy bill (S. 517).
However, during Senate floor consideration of the bill, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced an amendment that, in effect, struck the 30 percent increase from the bill. On April 25, 2002, the Senate approved the Harkin amendment by a 52-47 vote (Senate roll call vote 89). NO is the pro-environment vote. At press time the House and Senate conference on the energy package had not produced a final bill.