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A more efficient US? Energy agency prods only a bit.

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Efficiency advocates were upset. So was industry. "We were surprised and disappointed by the decision," says Joseph Mattingly, vice president and general counsel for the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association. "I've looked into the legislative history. They [DOE officials] have their interpretation of the law. But I haven't found anything to support it."

Admittedly, setting standards is complex, because it involves balancing many factors.

For example: On the same day the DOE rejected the boiler standard, for example, it also rebuffed a tough proposed standard for home furnaces. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy was pushing for standards it claims would save about $8 billion of furnace energy over 20 years. Instead, the DOE proposed a standard that 99 percent of furnaces sold in the US already meet.

The reason? The DOE said the more aggressive proposal crossed a legal line. The plan called for regional standards – a tough one for northern states, an easier one in southern states – while the law calls for a single nationwide standard, it argued.

"We have to follow our statutory requirements when evaluating where the current standards are," says David Rodgers, acting deputy assistant secretary for technology development in the DOE's energy efficiency office. "We propose the maximum technology that is feasible and economically justified."

The ACEEE is crying foul. "This is just letting an overly narrow view of the law get in the way of achieving the purpose of the act," says Steve Nadel, the group's executive director.

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