updated 9/8/2005 10:19:49 AM ET 2005-09-08T14:19:49

Fifteen states and New York City on Wednesday sued the U.S. Department of Energy for failing to enact stronger energy standards required by Congress for 22 common appliances.

The suit led by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer claims the federal agency has failed to set tougher energy requirements for manufacturers that would save electricity, natural gas and oil. Some deadlines set by Congress lapsed years ago, the state officials said. They estimate if the standards were set, the annual energy savings would meet the total energy needs of 3 million to 12 million American households. The electricity savings would equal the output of 13 to 42 large power plants, the state officials claimed in the civil lawsuit.

Other attorneys general and officials involved in the lawsuit are from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The Energy Department declined comment on the lawsuit.

“While the regulatory process is long and arduous, the department has engaged in an aggressive effort to promote the use and development of energy-efficient appliances and provides incentives for their production and purchase,” said department spokesman Craig Stevens in a prepared statement.

“As natural gas and home heating-oil prices hit record highs, the federal government’s failure to meet its obligation to revise energy-efficiency standards for common appliances calls out for prompt action,” said Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Spitzer said the federal agency never responded to a July 1 request to discuss the issue.

“That laid out where we felt they failed to abide by statutory deadlines,” Spitzer said after a New York City news conference.

“We were hoping to initiate a conversation with them that would lead to an agreed-upon schedule,” said Spitzer, who is running for governor.

The lawsuit is similar to one Spitzer won years ago to stop the Bush administration’s decision to weaken efficiency standards for central air conditioners.

The state attorneys general claimed the federal Energy Department is six to 13 years behind schedule on writing new regulations and that the agency hasn’t adopted any appliance-efficiency standards since January 2001.

The officials filing the suit are from states led by Democratic and Republican administrations. They say the effort is bipartisan, not an attack on the Bush administration, and inaction by the Energy Department began during the Clinton administration.

“Consumers are faced with record high costs for oil and gasoline,” said New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat. “This is a time when energy-savings measures are most needed.”

Natural Resources Defense Council also sued the U.S. Energy Department after it requested a timetable for regulations in July.

“The Department of Energy is a big bureaucracy ... energy efficiency hasn’t been an agency priority, it hasn’t been a political priority, and so the issue has been neglected,” said the group’s senior attorney Katherine Kennedy.

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