A divided Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has upheld a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE ) efficiency standards rule for small electrical motors. Nat’l Elec. Mfrs. Ass’n v. DOE, No. 10-1533 (4th Cir. 8/16/11). Published on March 9, 2010, the rule established energy conservation standards for electric induction motors ranging in power output from .25 to 3 horsepower. 75 Fed. Reg. 10,874.

DOE cited its authority under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) in promulgating the rule. Petitioners argued that the relevant statutory definition “excludes all such motors exceeding 1 horsepower, as well as certain motors rated at and less than 1 horsepower, from being regulated as small electric motors.” They also alleged that more powerful motors falling outside the statutory definition of small electric motors were included in calculations the agency used to support its decision to craft a rule.  

EPCA directs DOE to promulgate energy conservation standards for various products and equipment. Among other things, EPCA requires DOE to “prescribe, by rule, energy conservation standards for those small electric motors for which” the agency determines that such standards are “technologically feasible and economically justified, and would result in significant energy savings.” 42 U.S.C. § 6317(b)(1)-(2). EPCA defines “small electric motor” in highly technical terms, cross-referencing National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEM A) publications that set specifications for electric motors and generators.  

Upholding the rule, the court’s majority deferred to DOE ’s expertise in interpreting EPCA and NEM A publications. According to the majority, DOE ’s pronouncements in and before the final rule sufficiently set forth and justify its interpretation.  

The dissenting judge would have reversed, based on a careful reading of the relevant NEM A publications that EPCA cross-referenced and the statute’s legislative history.