Senate Votes to Repeal Biden Rule Restricting Residential Gas Furnaces

The administration’s order would mean higher costs for 14 percent of low-income households and 20 percent of small business consumers, an industry group said.
Senate Votes to Repeal Biden Rule Restricting Residential Gas Furnaces
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks during a press conference on border security at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on Sept. 27, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully
5/22/2024
Updated:
5/22/2024
0:00

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution on May 21 repealing a Biden administration policy forcing many Americans to ditch their gas furnaces and rely on electric ones.

On Sept. 29, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) finalized energy efficiency standards that required residential gas furnaces to achieve “an annual fuel utilization efficiency of 95 percent.”
The standards, set to take effect in 2028, necessitate that in four years, manufacturers must sell only furnaces that transform 95 percent of the fuel into heat. The current industry standard is 80 percent.

“This standard is readily achievable by modern condensing furnaces, which use secondary heat exchangers to capture excess heat from the furnace’s exhaust gases,” the agency said.

While condensing gas furnaces tend to be more efficient than non-condensing variants, they are more expensive. On Feb. 1, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced SJ Res 58, a resolution to block the proposal.

He pointed out that the DOE rule “will effectively ban all non-condensing furnace models, coercing a majority of American households to adopt electric heat pumps or pay thousands of dollars to renovate their homes to meet the requirements of new residential gas furnaces.”

On May 21, the Senate passed the resolution in a 50-45 vote.

While announcing the rule, the DOE justified it by claiming that the new standards for gas furnaces reduce household utility costs by $1.5 billion yearly and lower “greenhouse gas emissions.”

Over a period of 30 years, the standards are predicted to save consumers $24.8 billion.

“As of 2022, residential gas furnaces account for approximately 19 percent of annual residential energy use in the United States. DOE expects that updating efficiency standards for these appliances will, over 30 years, cut carbon emissions by 332 million metric tons.”

This is approximately equal to the combined annual emissions of 42 million homes or roughly 34 percent of American homes, the agency stated.

Sen. Cruz welcomed the passage of SJ Res 58 by the Senate, calling it a “win for Texas families, and indeed families across America” who would otherwise be forced to spend thousands of dollars.

The standards were proposed and finalized by the Biden DOE as part of a “broader, radical campaign” against fossil fuels, natural gas, and other sources of energy crucial to the American economy and households, he said.

“I am proud that the Senate passed my resolution in a bipartisan fashion, and I urge the House to take up this Resolution expeditiously and pass it.”

Industry Opposition

In comments submitted to the DOE when the gas furnace rule was proposed, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators backed the measure. They argued that increasing gas efficiency will ease customers’ heating bills.

“Low-to-moderate income households have a disproportionately higher energy burden on average than other households in America,” the caucus wrote.

“The payback period for gas furnaces under this proposed standard is only 2.1 years for low-income consumers, at which point these households would be reaping the full financial benefit from the updated standard.”

Meanwhile, industry groups opposed the measure. In joint comments submitted by several groups, including the American Gas Association (AGA) and the American Public Gas Association (APGA), they warned that the novel efficiency standards would “eliminate an entire category of gas furnace, i.e., noncondensing furnaces, currently used in millions of homes.”

At present, around 40 percent of non-weatherized natural gas furnaces sold to customers are non-condensing, they wrote, adding that millions of homes and businesses were designed for such furnaces.

“DOE’s data shows that the proposal will result in higher overall costs for 15 percent of senior-only households, 14 percent of low-income households, and 20 percent of small business consumers. … DOE should not issue a rule with such unacceptable impacts on low-income households, seniors, and energy insecure consumers.”

In December last year, the AGA filed a lawsuit against DOE for making non-condensing natural gas furnaces unavailable to most American consumers.
On Feb. 8, the APGA announced it was backing efforts in the House and Senate to block the furnace rule. The association accused the DOE of failing to provide a “transparent analysis and sufficient economic justification” for implementing the energy efficiency standards.

Stuart Saulters, APGA’s vice president of government relations, called the DOE policy “especially concerning” as it could force “vulnerable, underserved communities,” potentially to shift to less affordable electric furnaces, which also tend to be less efficient than the direct use of natural gas.

On May 21, the day SJ Res 58 was put up for vote in the Senate, the Biden administration issued a statement saying it “strongly opposes” the bill and that the president would veto it.

“DOE determined that these standards will result in significant conservation of energy, are technologically feasible, and economically justified, providing an estimated $1.5 billion each year in savings on household utility bills—with an average household that upgrades from a legacy model saving an estimated $500 over the new furnace’s lifetime,” the administration said.

“Passage of S.J. Res. 58 would eliminate these commonsense energy efficiency standards that promote choices for consumers to help them save money, prevent waste of electricity and gas, and strengthen energy security.”