New regs for Thursday: Alternative fuels, energy efficiency, disability claims

Thursday's edition of the Federal Register contains new energy efficiency rules for commercial packaged boilers and walk-in freezers, as well as an alternative fuel rule for car manufacturers. 

Here's what is happening:

Alternative fuels: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is considering a rule that would require car manufacturers to place labels on all vehicles that are capable of operating on alternative fuels. The labels would indicate which vehicles can use alternative fuels, and describe which alternative fuels they can use.

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The proposed rule, which would apply to all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks that are sold in the U.S., would require manufacturers to attach the labels to several areas of the vehicle. The first label would be affixed to a prominent area of the car and indicate that it is capable of operating on alternative fuels. The second label would be attached to the fuel tank compartment and indicate which alternative fuels it can use. The manufacturers would also be required to explain the benefits of alternative fuels in the owner's manual. 

The labeling rule is expected to cost manufacturers more than $14 million each year to comply with. 

The Energy Department listed ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, and electric as several examples of alternative fuels.

The Energy Department said the goal of the rule is to move toward energy independence and avoid supply disruptions and price volatility in the market.

"Renewable alternative fuels produced in the United States are less vulnerable to supply disruptions and price variability associated with imported fuels," the agency wrote. "Helping the public to better understand the benefits of these alternative fuels and to better recognize the vehicles that use them should increase their use, thereby replacing petroleum use and increasing national energy security."

Packaged boilers: The Department of Energy is considering new energy efficiency standards and test procedures for commercial packaged boilers. Packaged boilers are versatile machines that can be used in a building as water boilers to generate heat or as steam boilers to generate power. 

The Energy Department has standards in place to measure the efficiency of steam and hot water boilers while they are operating at full capacity, but it does not give an accurate reading for boilers that are operating at partial capacity, which is becoming more common in the commercial packaged boiler industry, the agency wrote.

So the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Energy Department is looking at how to best measure the efficiency of these boilers when they are operating at partial capacity. The agency wants to know what water temperatures and levels of steam pressure to recommend, as well as how many hours the burners can be expected to function.

"The current test procedure only measures the steady-state efficiency at maximum firing rate," the agency wrote. "It does not account for differences in efficiency when the boiler is operated at lower firing rates."

The Energy Department announced it is requesting more information and seeking public comment on the issue, as it decides whether to regulate.

Walk-in freezers: The Department of Energy is considering new energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and walk-in freezers.

The proposed rules from the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would establish alternative compliance and reporting standards to improve energy conservation.

The rules would also modify test procedures for the defrost setting and fan speed, among other things.

The Energy Department is accepting public comments on the proposed rule for the next month.

Truck drivers: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is moving forward with a rule that would track truck drivers who fail drug or alcohol tests. The Hill reported last week that the agency had sent the proposed rule to the Federal Register, but the Federal Register is waiting until Thursday to publish it.

Disability: The Social Security Administration is considering changing a rule that would require people who are filing disability claims to submit more evidence and information about their injuries. This would "enable us to have a more complete case record on which to make more accurate disability determinations and decisions," the agency wrote.