Hot Air Over Cool Air

Air-conditioning is generating some political heat because of a disagreement over energy- efficiency standards.

But there's really only one cool stance on the subject: Go with the highest standard.

Buying more efficient appliances - especially ones that consume as much juice as air-conditioners do - are a prime means of conservation. And no matter what the Bush administration may have said about not being able to conserve our way out of the current energy crunch, higher efficiency standards not only prevent more air pollution, they reduce it.

The hot point of contention is whether a new standard should boost energy efficiency 20 percent above current levels, or 30 percent. The latter standard was promulgated by President Clinton just before leaving office - making it one of those last-minute regulations that so ticked off the Bush team.

But this regulation had been in the making for years. It has the backing of many state governments, as well as environmental and energy-watchdog groups. Three states and some of the latter groups are now suing to keep the Clinton standard in effect. Interestingly, that standard once had the backing of George W. Bush, when he was governor of Texas.

Now, with a lot of lobbying by air-conditioning industry groups, President Bush has changed his mind and proposes the lower, 20 percent standard. The argument for that standard is that it will make central air, and thus homes, somewhat more affordable for poorer families.

In the hottest parts of the US, however, most dwellings will be AC-equipped even if $200 or $300 is added to the cost of a new air-conditioning unit. And many experts expect little or no cost spike.

What's sure is that the industry is capable of meeting the higher standard - models are available that go even higher than the 30 percent energy saving - and that long-term benefits to the country, in conserved electricity and less pollution, will be substantial.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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