The Bush administration has issued new energy-efficiency standards for residential air conditioners and heat pumps that are less ambitious than a regulation proposed by the Clinton administration, but still would represent a stiffer requirement than the present one.

Under the proposal, announced April 13, central air conditioners and heat pumps would have to meet a 12/12 Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio standard. The Clinton proposal called for a SEER of 13. DOE estimates that its proposal would result in a $213 price increase for consumers, compared with a $335 hike under the Clinton plan. DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham says that cost difference would be a particular benefit to low-income consumers.

Abraham also says the new requirement would produce a 20% increase in energy savings compared with the current level. The decision followed Bush officials' 60-day review of Clinton administration regulatory standards.

But Fred Krupp, executive director of Environmental Defense, criticized the DOE action. He terms it "a real missed opportunity, which will only make America more polluted."

On April 12, DOE decided to accept Clinton's proposed energy-efficiency standards for clothes washers and water heaters. They would mandate 22% higher efficiency for washers by 2004 and 35% more efficient by 2007.

Gas water heaters would have to be 8% more efficient and electric heaters 4% more efficient in 2004.