2014 Science, Technology and Environment

John Cymbalsky

Brought together industry and environmental groups to adopt new efficiency standards for appliances and commercial equipment that will save consumers money and reduce energy consumption and air pollution.

By engaging and reaching consensus among environmental, consumer and industry groups, the Department of Energy (DOE) has made rapid progress during the past several years adopting numerous new energy conservation standards for residential appliances and commercial equipment.

The Appliance Standards Program, designed to save consumers money while reducing energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, has been headed since 2010 by John Cymbalsky, who revived the languishing initiative that had been hampered by numerous lawsuits and a tug-of-war between manufacturers and environmental groups.

“The appliance industry now has confidence that the federal government can effectively manage a standards program in a way that does not kill jobs or markets, but is a friend to industry and consumers,” said Bill Valdez, director of workforce management for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

“Because of John Cymbalsky, U.S. appliance makers are voluntarily accelerating their efforts to achieve efficiencies, and this will make them more competitive in international markets and promote U.S. job creation, consumer savings and environmental improvements.” said Valdez.

Since Cymbalsky took over the program, DOE has promulgated new energy efficiency standards for 20 products, including water heaters, clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers, commercial refrigeration equipment, small electric motors, room air-conditioners, furnaces, water-source heat pumps and metal halide lamp fixtures.

In the three years prior to his taking the helm, DOE initiated and adopted just eight energy efficiency standards not mandated by Congress and was struggling to meet court-imposed deadlines.

According to DOE, the cumulative energy bill savings from the 20 products with new efficiency standards will be $150 billion by 2030, as opposed to $80 billion from the standards approved during the prior three years. Overall, it is projected the federal appliance program will reduce carbon emissions by 600 million metric tons during the next 16 years, an increase from the 383 million metric tons before adoption of the new standards for the 20 appliances were instituted under Cymbalsky’s management.

“John and his team have totally turned the ship around,” said David Danielson, a DOE assistant secretary. “This went from a program that was far behind to one achieving aggressive goals.”

Philip Stevens, vice president for engineering for HTP, a water heater manufacturer, said he has participated in a DOE-sponsored working group involving a number of commercial products and appliances and has found Cymbalsky willing to listen to the industry’s concerns.

“We didn’t always agree, but we were able to discuss points that were vital,” he said. “Before John came on board, manufacturers were dictated to as to what would happen, when it would happen and how it would happen. Now we have a voice.”

Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, a consumer and environmental coalition, praised DOE in a recent statement for finalizing new methods for rating and certifying commercial air-conditioning, heating, water heating, and refrigeration equipment.

“By accepting the consensus rule developed by the multi-stakeholder working group, DOE now has the tools to fairly and cost-effectively implement these important, energy-saving standards,” said DeLaski. He said Cymbalsky and his team allowed for full discussion of all the issues.

Central to Cymbalsky’s management has been a shift away from the often contentious top-down rule-making process to one that builds consensus and reaches negotiated agreements between DOE, the affected manufacturers and consumer and environmental organizations.

Cymbalsky, the program manager for appliance standards, created a number of advisory committees, bringing the stakeholders together to work out their differences.

“In the past, we basically put out our proposed rules and took public comment. Under the new process, people feel like their voices are being heard and after a give-and-take, we have been reaching solutions,” said Cymbalsky. “At the end of the day, we don’t get sued, there are no delays in implementing the conservation rules and we capture the energy savings sooner.”

In one recent case, the Consumer Electronics Association, DOE and pay-television providers avoided the formal rule-making process by agreeing to a new voluntary energy efficiency standard for set-top boxes. These guidelines could save enough energy each year to power some 700,000 homes.

Under Cymbalsky’s watch, enforcement of the standards also has markedly improved. In a February 2014 report, DOE’s inspector general said that until the past few years, manufacturers submitted efficiency performance certifications for only about 20 percent of the models for which they were required. In a 2014 survey of products sold by one big-box store, the inspector general found that 93 percent were certified. In addition, DOE has assessed more than $10 million in fines since 2010 for noncompliance compared to no fines during the previous years.

Cymbalsky said that at the end of the day, his job is to move the process forward while balancing the interests of consumers, industry and the environment. “For me, this is about reducing energy usage, saving energy costs for consumers and improving the environment by reducing pollution,” said Cymbalsky.