Beginning in the 1970s, Congress enacted a series of laws that established or directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish energy efficiency standards for certain appliances and commercial equipment. In addition, DOE is required to review existing standards for covered products at least once every six years and to set standards at levels that achieve the maximum improvement in energy efficiency that is "technically feasible and economically justified." Transparency and public participation are important parts of all rulemakings.
The Four Phase Process
Each rulemaking takes about three years to complete and usually consists of four phases. At each phase, a notice is published in the Federal Register and all supporting documents and comments are made available in the rulemaking docket in regulations.gov. After each of the first three notices, there is public comment period and, during that period, there is usually a public meeting (and webinar).
In the framework phase, DOE publishes a framework document that presents the basic analytical and procedural principles and legal authority that will guide the rulemaking. The framework document also typically solicits feedback from stakeholders on specific questions.
Preliminary Analysis Phase
In the preliminary analysis phase, DOE gathers available data and information about the product's technical, economic, and market characteristics and makes preliminary determinations concerning methods of improving efficiencies and the impacts of doing so. DOE then publishes this analysis and solicits public input.
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) Phase
In the notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) phase, DOE considers public input from the preliminary analysis phase, revises its analysis, and proposes to the public an efficiency level that it has determined would result in the maximum improvement in energy efficiency that is both technological feasible and economically justified.
Final Rule Phase
In the final rule phase, DOE considers public input from the NOPR phase, further revises its analysis, and issues the final rule, which establishes any mandatory minimum energy conservation standard. Typically, the rule requires that manufacturers must comply with the new standard within 3 to 5 years, providing time to make any investments or changes required.
DOE may sometimes use a shorter process. For example, when it already has most of the critical data and information it needs to conduct its analysis for a given product, the process may start at the preliminary analysis or NOPR phase. DOE may also publish a direct final rule establishing energy conservation standards submitted as a consensus agreement pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 6295(p)(4).
DOE considers transparency and stakeholder participation to be essential and encourages stakeholders to participate in the rulemaking process. Stakeholders include manufacturers, trade associations, utilities, energy efficiency advocates, and the general public. In addition to the Federal Register notices, DOE posts to regulations.gov all technical support documents and any analytical spreadsheet models that support the analyses in the preliminary analysis, NOPR, and final rule stages. Key chapters within the technical support document include the market and technology assessment, engineering analysis, life-cycle cost and payback period analysis, national impact analysis, and manufacturer impact analysis.