Trump May Save Your Air Conditioner From the Deep State

It happens every spring—on the first hot day, homeowners
switch on their air conditioners that have sat idle since September, cross
their fingers, and pray they get cold air.

For those that don’t work, the owners know they’ll soon be
on the hook for a repair costing hundreds of dollars or a replacement costing
thousands.

But what most don’t know is that bureaucrats in Washington
have been targeting home air conditioners for decades, and that their
regulations are partly responsible for the high cost of cooling off.

Thankfully, the Trump administration is holding the line
against any more such measures, but the deep state continues to quietly work on
several of them.

Even the regulations that are supposed to save consumers
money can end up costing them. For example, the Department of Energy sets
efficiency standards for both central air systems and window units, which in
theory will reduce electric bills.

But over the last 30 years, the agency has set multiple
rounds of successively tighter standards with diminishing marginal returns, and
the last several raised the up-front cost of equipment more than many owners
will ever earn back in the form of energy savings.

The worst of them, finalized during the Clinton
administration and taking effect in 2006, not only resulted in a sharply higher
price tag for central air conditioners—likely much higher than the Energy
Department-predicted $335—but also resulted in much larger components, and thus
higher installation costs as more homeowners had to have walls knocked out to
accommodate them.

Not to be outdone, President Barack Obama adopted even more
stringent air conditioner standards. In so doing, Energy Department bureaucrats
dropped the pretense of putting consumers first by focusing on the claimed
climate change-fighting benefits of more energy-stingy cooling.

The latest standard for window units joins a growing list of
appliance regulations that even the Energy Department admits may raise the
price tag more than the energy savings—which is particularly problematic, since
window units are the most affordable option for low-income households.   

The Trump Energy Department chose not to reverse these
Obama-era air conditioner efficiency standards—which a difficult task—but it is
raising the bar on any further ones. The Energy Department is proposing that
new standards can be set only if they deliver significant consumer benefits—a
refreshing return to common sense.

But the legions of bureaucrats and lobbyists and activists
who make their living off an endless stream of efficiency regulations are
waiting for the next sympathetic president to roll out more pain for
homeowners.

Beyond efficiency, Washington has also found fault with the
refrigerants used in these air conditioners.

Starting in the late 1980s, the most effective refrigerants
were scheduled for gradual phase-out on the grounds that they deplete the
Earth’s ozone layer. The best refrigerant for cooling homes, HCFC-22, was
banned by the Environmental Protection Agency for new equipment starting in
2010.

Small amounts on this refrigerant are still made for the
millions of older systems still requiring it, but even that is scheduled to end
next year.

Not surprisingly, HCFC-22 prices have jumped, from about $1
per pound wholesale prior to government restrictions to around 10 times that
today, and a residential system can require up to 15 pounds.

Higher refrigerant prices are one reason why A/C repair
costs have risen. Another is the EPA requirement that service technicians take
steps to prevent refrigerant from escaping during repairs, which is time
consuming and requires expensive equipment.

The Obama EPA expanded these requirements, but Trump may
reverse some of them.

Inevitably, the repairmen take the brunt from angry
customers, but much of the fault really lies with federal regulators. 

Things might get even worse. The “eco-friendly” alternative
for HCFC-22 used in many post-2010 air conditioners is now also being targeted
by environmentalists, this time because it is a contributor to climate change.
These activists have allied with opportunistic manufacturers that have patented
climate-friendly substitute refrigerants that represent yet another step up in
cost.

Obama agreed to a United Nations treaty provision called the
Kigali Amendment, which would crack down on currently-used refrigerants in
favor of these new ones, but he left office before submitting it to the Senate
for the required ratification vote.

Trump has thus far shown no interest in doing so, but career
bureaucrats and even a few on his White House team are trying to change his
mind.

Trump himself has not spent any time talking or tweeting
about air conditioning, so we don’t know for certain where he stands, but he
does have the distinction of owning far more air conditioning than any previous
president.

Perhaps that is why he has thus far stopped the regulatory onslaught on staying cool. Let’s hope it continues.

Originally published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.