A move by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to reduce the energy conservation standards from a 30% reduction in energy use to a 20% reduction was ruled against by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York. The DOE had replaced the 13 SEER, or 30% energy reduction, standard with a 12 SEER, or 20% energy reduction, standard in 2002 after Congress passed the amendment. The measure will affect air conditioners manufactured after January 2006. The suggested replacement violated the intent of Congress to make it difficult to reverse course and roll back energy standards, the court said.

The Air-Conditioning Refrigeration Institute (ARI), which encouraged the DOE to replace the standard, expressed disappointment. The Institute originally supported the lower standard because it said the raised price of the units wouldn't offset the savings in energy in enough states. This would cause consumers to use older air conditioners, which use more energy, or possibly, in the case of low-income families or elderly, not use any air conditioner at all.

Proponents of the 13 SEER standard included the Natural Resource Defense Council, consumer groups and attorneys general from 10 states.

ARI President William G. Sutton said in a statement the organization will review the court's decision with counsel. Its options include requesting further review of the 2nd Circuit's decision and pursuing challenge of the 13 SEER rule before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Unlike the 2nd Circuit's decision, which was based on procedural grounds, the 4th Circuit would be reviewing DOE regulations to determine whether the standard was economically justified for consumers and manufacturers,” he said.