CFA News

CFAnews Update – February 21, 2018

Court Orders Four Energy Efficiency Rules, that Will Save Consumers Billions, to Go Into Effect

A U.S. district court handed down a ruling last week that will save consumers approximately $8.5 billion over 30 years, according to CFA’s analysis, by ending the U.S. Department of Energy’s delay of four energy efficiency rules.

CFA and the Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy (Texas ROSE), were parties to the lawsuit challenging the Department’s delay of rules affecting portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies, air compressors, and commercial packaged boilers. The court ordered DOE to go forward and publish the rules in the Federal Register within 28 days. It remains to be seen if the agency will appeal the order.

“When products are more energy efficient, consumers benefit directly through lower electricity bills or indirectly through the lower cost of goods and services,” said CFA’s Director of Energy Programs Mel Hall-Crawford in a press statement. “There was no reason for these rules to have been held up–it’s been over a year since they were finalized and should have been published in the Federal Register.  DOE’s inaction has delayed energy savings from being passed on to consumers.”

“The court’s order is an important step forward in saving Americans money on energy costs.  Thanks to the district court, DOE must follow the law and publish the efficiency standards for these products,” said Carol Biedrzycki, Executive Director of Texas ROSE.

CFA estimates that when you add public health and environmental benefits to the consumer pocketbook savings, the total net societal benefits is $21 billion over 30 years. “This is an important victory for consumers, the environment and our economy,” said Hall-Crawford.

White House Budget Targets CFPB Funding, Court Upholds Independent Director

The proposed federal budget released by the White House last week targets the funding structure for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The proposal would eliminate the Bureau’s current source of funding through revenue generated from the Federal Reserve banks, threatening the independence of the agency, slash the consumer protection agency’s funding for the upcoming year, and eliminate its funding altogether by 2020.

“Those who care about protecting American families from deceptive and unfair debts should insist on preserving the current system of funding the CFPB through Federal Reserve bank revenue,” said CFA’s Senior Fellow Christopher Peterson in a press statement. “The Federal Reserve generates much of its own funding by providing services to the nation’s banking industry. It makes sense for banks to help cover the costs of providing a consumer protection watchdog and for the agency to be insulated from a political appropriations process.”

“The CFPB has been a highly efficient use of public funds,” added Peterson, citing a study which found that “for every dollar spent on CFPB’s law enforcement staff, over $53 were returned to the public in law enforcement cases targeting deceptive practices by banks and other financial companies.”

The Administration’s budget proposal came on the heels of earlier efforts to undermine the CFPB by attacking the independence of its director. Late last month, a U.S. Court of Appeals sustained Congress’ choice for the CFPB’s Director to be removable only for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office. This architecture for an independent director was implemented in the wake of the great recession to keep the head of the consumer watch dog insulated from political pressure to put financial donors before consumers.

“The courts have done their part to protect consumers and now the Administration should follow suit,” said Peterson in a press statement. “Financial law enforcement shouldn’t be controlled by political masters. President Trump should now nominate a permanent director with a firm and independent commitment to stopping unfair, deceptive, and abusive financial practices.”

USDA Denies Industry Petition to Increase Poultry Slaughterhouse Line Speeds

USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service has denied a petition from the National Chicken Council requesting that the agency eliminate line speed caps for some chicken slaughter plants. The Safe Food Coalition, and tens of thousands of individual consumers, had asked USDA to deny the petition.

“We commend FSIS for rejecting the National Chicken Council’s request,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of CFA’s Food Policy Institute, in a press statement. “Waiving line speed restrictions could easily increase food safety risks, and this proposal lacked any credible safeguards.”

In the letter rejecting the petition, FSIS Acting Deputy Under Secretary Carmen Rottenberg indicated that the agency lacked the evidentiary basis to allow plants to operate without a line speed cap. The letter goes on to say that the petition’s proposed criteria for raising line speed caps would only duplicate existing requirements. “The data clearly did not support this petition and we are pleased that FSIS has confirmed that,” said Safe Food Coalition member Patricia Buck of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention.

However, FSIS indicated that the agency may still issue “new technology waivers” that raise line speed caps for some plants. Pursuant to a 2014 rulemaking, the agency currently allows 20 plants operating under USDA’s “New Poultry Inspection System” to operate at up to 175 birds per minute. Other plants, regardless of the inspection system, cannot exceed 140 birds per minute.

According to Rottenberg, “in the near future,” the agency will announce new criteria that it will use to evaluate whether individual plants may qualify for line speed waivers. The content of the criteria remains to be seen, but the existing procedures at FSIS for evaluating “new technology” waivers do not provide for public comment on applications. That raises transparency concerns, said Gremillion.

Few Funeral Homes Disclose Useful Price Information on Websites

Few funeral homes in 25 small- and medium-sized state capitals disclose useful price information online, according to the latest pricing report prepared by the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and CFA. Of 193 funeral homes with websites, only 30 (16 percent) posted the price information that the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Funeral Rule requires them to hand to customers who ask.

FCA and CFA surveyed 211 funeral homes within a 10-mile radius of 25 small- and medium-sized capital cities. Of these homes, 193 had active websites. Funeral homes in some cities were notable for their refusal to post prices on their websites. None of 17 funeral homes with websites in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, or Topeka, Kansas posted prices, for example.

“In an era when the large majority of consumers use the Internet to shop, the FTC should extend the Funeral Rule disclosure requirement to funeral homes with websites,” said Josh Slocum, FCA President. “The cost of posting an existing price list is insignificant.”

Consumers strongly support this online price disclosure. In a 2017 phone survey conducted for CFA and FCA by ORC International, 79 percent of respondents favored a requirement that funeral homes with websites disclose online the same price information they are required to make available in person.

“With easily available price information, consumers who today spend an average of more than $7,000 on a funeral could often lower that figure considerably,” said CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck. “And just the availability of this information online would tend to restrain prices for all funeral services.”

Fuel Economy Rollback Would Threaten Half a Trillion in Consumer Savings

Recent media reports indicate that the Trump Administration is looking at a variety of options to roll back current fuel economy standards, known as CAFE standards. Not only are the standards, which have been agreed to by the automakers, imminently achievable, but rolling them back would take a big bite out of household budgets, CFA warned.

Numerous surveys conducted by CFA over the years have shown that Americans support federal fuel economy standards for cars and light duty trucks by a large margin. The most recent survey from July 2017 showed that almost 80 percent of Americans support the standards, and support for fuel economy standards has remained very consistent, averaging 79 percent, since 2012.

“One reason for the consistent and widespread support of higher standards is that a large majority of car buyers believe that a vehicle’s fuel economy is important in their everyday lives,” said CFA Public Affairs Director Jack Gillis.

In part, this concern reflects the belief that gas prices will rise in the future, as evidenced by the most recent price increase. In July 2017, when asked to predict the price of gasoline in five years, the average price given by survey respondents was $3.90. Today’s average price is $2.58, which is $0.30 more than this time last year.

“Our analysis clearly indicates that the car companies are fully capable of meeting the CAFE standards and can do so with great savings for consumers,” Gillis said. “Rolling back the standards at this point would not only hurt America’s already financially beleaguered consumers, but would hamper vehicle sales and put U.S. car companies at a distinct competitive disadvantage to the Asian car companies who will meet the standards.”

Numerous cost-benefit analyses show that these standards can save consumers thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle in reduced gas costs, even at today’s lower prices. In a recent report, for example, CFA calculated that rolling back fuel economy standards would cause a loss of one-half trillion dollars in pocketbook savings on transportation costs, considering both household gasoline and the cost of diesel used in trucking goods, which is passed on to consumers.