The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has delivered proposed regulations governing the efficiency of central air conditioning systems and heat pumps to the Federal Register for publication, setting out the department's intention to propose regulatory standards for increasing the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, for new central air conditioners and heat pumps by 20% to a 12 SEER. Current law sets that standard at 10 SEER.

If adopted, this proposed rule would substitute for the standard set out in a rule transmitted by the outgoing Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency to the Federal Register on January 16, 2001, four days before the conclusion of President Clinton's term of office, and published on January 22, 2001. That rule would have raised the SEER standard for central air conditioners and heat pumps to 13, a 30% increase. DOE has been reviewing that rule pursuant to President Bush's January 20, 2001, directive concerning regulatory review.

In its review, DOE found that the January 22, 2001, rulemaking took procedural shortcuts of doubtful legality and that the 13 SEER standard would have an undue impact on consumers and manufacturers. The 12 SEER standard set out in the new proposed rule would achieve significant energy savings in a way significantly less burdensome for consumers and manufacturers.

The department is inviting public comment on the proposed regulations. Written comments must be received 75 days after publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register. DOE will also conduct a public hearing on this proposed standard approximately 60 days from the date of publication. Requests to speak at the public hearing must be received by DOE within 45 days of the date of publication. Copies of the proposed regulation are available for public review at the U.S. Department of Energy's Freedom of Information Reading Room, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C.