A coalition of ten states and the City of New York pushed the U.S. Department of Energy earlier this month to make good on proposed energy efficiency standards that had been languishing for years. 

The first of those has come to fruition, with the White House announcing new rules for commercial refrigeration equipment, such as deli cases and walk-in freezers and coolers. If the proposed standards are adopted as-is, the rule is expected to cut energy bills by up to $28 billion over 30 years. 

Some of the states pushing for the federal standard already have adopted California's energy efficiency standard for walk-ins, which reduce energy use by more than 40 percent compared to standard products, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP). The federal standard has not been updated since 2009. 

There are about 340,000 annual shipments of walk-ins, and restaurant equipment is especially prime for more stringent standards because of the high energy use of the businesses. Because of their refrigeration equipment, restaurants typically use far more energy than other small businesses, such as retail, and are ripe for utility energy-efficiency programs. 

While the White House issued a release heralding its historic action, the reality is that the DOE had missed deadlines to set standards for these appliances and others, such as metal halide lamps, for months and even years in some cases. 

“Without updated standards, these products continue to waste power, leading to higher utility bills for all while harming the environment,” Meg Waltner, an energy efficiency advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a recent blog post. “In fact, the delays from just these four products found in nearly every U.S. community already have cost Americans an estimated $2.31 billion in missed savings. Each additional month costs about $156 million.”

And it's been many months. When President Obama first took office, he ordered then Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to clear the backlog of appliance standards that had been collecting dust. Progress was made, and new standards will save Americans $77 billion and nearly 30 quads of energy by 2035. But about a year and a half ago, progress stalled, and pending standards piled up. 

When President Obama unveiled his climate plan this summer, however, the focus on energy efficiency was back. He announced new efficiency targets for appliance standards (although this consists mostly of just completing standards that have never been finalized) and a goal of increasing efficiency in federal buildings. 

The work has already started. Earlier this month, the DOE issued a proposed rule for metal halide lamp fixtures that is expected to save one quad of energy over 30 years. The three rules proposed this month, along with previously updated energy standards, will reportedly put the White House more than halfway toward its goal for emissions reductions from efficiency standards. 

For the rest of its missed deadlines, the DOE has proposed a new schedule to clear the backlog while still meeting new deadlines. Once the logjam is cleared, there is still work to be done. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that the DOE has made tremendous strides in enforcing the standards, but 7 percent of the products found in one big-box store were not certified.