Guest commentary: Federal appliance proposal ignores energy, environmental equity


Tucker Perkins is president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council.

COVID-19 creates a number of health-wrecking symptoms for many people. Fever and chills, cough, shortness of breath and even loss of taste and smell are all part of the package.

Our economy appears to be suffering from these same symptoms. Supply chain shocks and the fever of inflation have pushed prices up on everything, especially energy.

The national average price of regular gasoline hovered near $5 per gallon, with diesel fuel at about $5.80. Likewise, electricity hit 14.26 cents per kilowatt-hour on average, an all-time high, costing the average American household nearly $130 a month.

These price increases don’t simply represent more dollars being spent on energy; they force Americans to make trade-offs within the budgets they have. Those choices — between buying food or buying gas, between paying for medicine or paying the always surprising electric bill — make abstract discussion of our energy transition absolutely real. Millions of Americans who can least afford all of this are getting squeezed by a “heat versus eat” vise.

Now, just as the nation finds itself in a hot summer, the Biden administration is proposing to add to the pressure by pursuing new efficiency standards for furnaces. By many accounts, the proposed ideas will dramatically increase the cost of a new furnace by as much as $2,200, with the vague promise that homeowners will recover those costs over an extended period of time.

A number of furnaces that run on the most affordable energy sources, like propane (which remains below $3 per gallon), will be pushed off the market, forcing consumers to buy models that run on more expensive electricity.

That is what energy inequity looks like in its most innocuous form.

If energy efficiency is the real goal, then the administration has a duty to acknowledge the fact that electricity is among the least efficient ways to convey energy. More than 60% of energy used to make electricity, for example, is lost at the power plant, while pushing electrons through hundreds of miles of copper wire results in additional energy loss.

More likely to me is that in this case, efficiency is being used to mask a movement to electrify everything — a climate policy theory based on the assumption that electrification equals decarbonization.

Electrification does not eliminate carbon emissions. Instead, it commits environmental injustice by concentrating carbon and pollution emissions upstream in fossil-fueled electric-generation plants that are often located near the most vulnerable communities.

The cost of electrifying everything is pegged at somewhere between $20 trillion and $25 trillion over the next 20 years, costing at least $40,000 for every American home. The latest proposed appliance rules are just one way that burden is being pushed onto those who can least afford it, while ignoring the carbon-emission reality of electric utilities.

Timing, as the saying goes, is everything. Given the burdens energy inflation is imposing on lower-income Americans, now is not the time to inflict more pain, especially when there is little, if any, efficiency or environmental gain.

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