Wall Street Journal Article – 2/12/13

WSJCourt Snuffs Out Rule on Fake Fireplaces


WASHINGTON—The Department of Energy’s push to make gas-log fireplaces use less energy has flamed out, at least temporarily, after a court decision that will force the agency to rewrite efficiency rules.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in a 2-1 decision, threw out rules adopted in 2011 to regulate faux hearths—household products that simulate a wood fire with artificial logs and a natural-gas flame. On Monday, an Department of Energy spokeswoman declined to say whether the Obama administration will try again with new rules after the appeals court decision, which was released Friday.

“We hold DOE’s feet to a not-so-decorative fire,” wrote Judge Janice Rogers Brown for the majority. She wrote that the department needed to do more homework in order to justify efficiency standards on “decorative” fireplaces.

The department had said that the 1987 National Appliance Energy Conservation Act allowed it to regulate fireplaces “designed to furnish warm air,” including products designed to heat up a room and “decorative” models designed primarily for aesthetics. To placate manufacturers, the department excluded decorative products from the strictest part of the 2011 rule.

The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, an industry group, sued anyway, saying the rule still illegally imposed requirements on decorative products.

“We are gratified that the court agreed that the Department of Energy overstepped its bounds in regulating these products,” said Jack Goldman, the group’s president.

The ruling left the door open to future regulations. The majority opinion said the agency could regulate decorative products, not as heating devices but separately under the 1987 law. In that case, the department would have to justify the rule by analyzing the products’ energy use and improvements manufacturers could feasibly make.

Judge A. Raymond Randolph dissented, saying the Department of Energy acted mostly correctly when it exempted decorative fireplaces from the law’s main restrictions.

Rett Rasmussen, whose company, Rasmussen Iron Works Inc. of Whittier, Calif., makes decorative fireplace sets, said he hoped the ruling was the “final word” on the matter.

If the department does move forward with new rules, “we are going to protect ourselves and protect what rights we have under the law,” he said. “I hope that they do so in a much more thought-out and more measured way.”