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Obama's newest energy focus: appliances

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered quicker, and in some cases new, efforts to make many appliances much more energy efficient.
Image: Dusting appliances in Ft. Launderdale, Fla.
Ovens are among the appliances set for an energy-efficiency overhaul after President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the Energy Department to enact new standards by August.Joe Raedle / Getty Images
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Eager to show action on energy savings for consumers and reduced warming emissions for the planet, President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered quicker, and in some cases new, efforts to make many appliances much more energy efficient.

"This will save consumers money, this will spur innovation and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy," Obama said in remarks at the Energy Department, where he briefed staff on his plan for a new energy economy.

In a presidential memorandum, Obama instructed the Energy Department to set rules by August for nine appliances, among them: ovens (including microwave ones), lamps, beverage vending machines, residential dishwashers, commercial boilers and commercial air conditioners.

The fact that Obama became directly involved in speeding up household appliance standards underscores how much he wants to show quick, clear progress on energy — part of a broader campaign promise to deal with economic and energy concerns all at once.

Laws on the books already require new efficiency standards for household and commercial appliances. But they have been backlogged in a tangle of missed deadlines, bureaucratic disputes and litigation.

In essence, Obama's intent is to say that legal deadlines must be met, with priority being given to those standards that are likely to yield the best pocketbook savings for consumers.

The Energy Department is also being charged with improving the efficiency of more than 30 product categories.

Estimated cost, emissions savings
The standards could lead to more expensive appliances, but administration officials say the cumulative effect will mean lower electricity bills for consumers, conserved energy and lower greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for global warming.

The White House estimates the tighter standards will, over the next 30 years, save as much electricity as is produced in two years by all coal-fired power plants in the United States —  and save consumers more than $500 billion in electric bills.

On emissions tied to greenhouse gases, the White House estimates the standards will reduce those by as much as is produced in more than a year by U.S. power plants.

Environmentalists and energy-efficiency activists praised the move as going well beyond what the Bush administration did.

"In the last eight years, the Department of Energy has set or updated four new standards, and the new administration will set or update at least six times this amount," Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

So far in his presidency, Obama also took a major step toward allowing California and other states to target greenhouse gases through more stringent auto emission standards. And he has also ordered new federal rules directing automakers to start making more fuel-efficient cars as required by law.