When you think of Ronald Reagan, energy efficiency may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But the former California governor and U.S. president was a genuine trailblazer in that arena. He signed a law that was the impetus for home appliance energy standards that are now on track to save consumers more than a trillion dollars, including an estimated $58 billion in 2014 alone. With their long history and strong bipartisan foundation, appliance energy efficiency standards are poised today to achieve even more. 

In the mid-70s, California Gov. Reagan created the first appliance standards program – a groundbreaking move that saved California consumers billions of dollars, kept unnecessary power plants from being built, and helped transform that state into one of the most energy efficient in the country.  Today, President Obama follows in Reagan’s footsteps, presiding over a highly successful federal appliance standards program.

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Of course, the White House is not alone in this important effort benefitting consumers and the environment. Republicans and Democrats in Congress have a track record of working together on appliance standards, and politicians from both sides of the aisle must continue to keep advancing this important energy policy initiative. In Congress, representatives of both parties have worked together to pass bipartisan appliance standards legislation, not once but six times over 28 years, setting minimum efficiency standards for many of the most commonly used products in our homes.  

As the nation shifts into holiday season mode and close to one third of gift-giving US consumers ponder household appliance purchases, it is important to keep in mind how the domestic market for appliances has evolved in just the past decade.  While recession-wary consumer demand for household appliances is slowly rebounding to pre-2009 levels, buyers see the benefits of appliance standards that keep energy bills in check and are more careful about related purchases than they were in the past. 

In the mid-1970s, a basic refrigerator consumed about 1800 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Four decades later, after several rounds of California and national standards, average refrigerators today consume one-fourth the energy.  Even as they’ve gotten more efficient, they’ve become less expensive, despite increased size and more features. Adjusted for inflation, today’s new refrigerators cost about half as much as a typical refrigerator from the mid-1970s.  

And refrigerators are just one of many residential, commercial, and lighting products that have tallied up significant energy savings. With a proven track record of success, it’s easy to understand why efficiency standards are one of the nation’s most successful energy-saving policies. 

What Reagan began 40 years ago has become one of the most successful examples of bipartisan cooperation in Washington D.C. It helped lay the foundation for today’s cost-effective policy, which has been racking up tremendous savings for consumers and the country for years.  A typical U.S. household saves about $500 a year (or $60 a month) on utility bills due to efficiency standards.   

The work by the White House, Congress, and federal agencies to keep standards up to date must continue. We need standards that evolve with the consumer and our national energy landscape – standards that enhance U.S. energy security by reducing the amount of energy that is needed to power our economy. Obama recognizes what appliance standards mean for our nation, and he has ambitious goals before the end of his second term – the biggest of which is new standards for commercial air conditioning (rooftop units). These standards, supported by manufacturers, efficiency advocates, and many other stakeholders would be the most significant appliance standard by far, representing 15 quadrillion Btu in energy savings over three decades and are due by the end of this year.

Standards for central air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and several other products are also on the Department of Energy agenda for 2016.  

Energy efficiency isn’t about politics. It’s about achieving major consumer savings, substantial environmental benefits and a healthier economy. This will require lawmakers in Congress to continue to work together across the aisle to further advance appliance standards. Doing so will build on an important but little known aspect of Reagan’s legacy for our children and grandchildren – one refrigerator, clothes dryer, water heater, and air conditioner at a time. 

deLaski is executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), which leads a broad-based coalition working to advance new appliance, equipment and lighting standards, delivering energy savings and environmental benefits.