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Biden energy efficiency crackdown leaves no appliance in American home untouched

List of impacted appliances includes gas stoves, dishwashers, ACs, refrigerators, washing machines, microwaves, and furnaces, fueling concerns consumer choices are being thwarted.

Published: December 30, 2023 11:41pm

New York City's effort in the 1990s to regulate toilets and shower heads to cut down water usage ignited consumer outrage, even inspiring a 1996 Seinfeld television episode in which the character Kramer was so fed up with his apartment's low-flow shower head that he purchased a high-flow head on the black market.

Three decades later, the Biden administration is leaving few appliances in the home untouched in its quest to regulate the amount of water and energy Americans use for their household chores.

The list of impacted appliances includes gas stoves, dishwashers, air conditioners, refrigerators, light bulbs, washing machines, microwaves, and furnaces, just to name a few. And the push back is growing, raising concerns that consumers will lose choices and pay more for future appliances, especially seniors on fixed incomes and low-income families.

"It started with gas stoves, and now it's virtually everything about our house. And that wakes up a lot of people," said Tim Stewart, the president of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association. He is planning  to ride wave of discontent to launch a "Hands off my Home" grassroots effort next year to fight the energy-efficiency crackdown on appliances,

Here's a look at some of the targets of the Biden administration's regulatory offensive:

Shower heads

Shower head regulations of the 1990s became a federal issue. In May 2010, the Obama administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) issued rules that expanded the definition of what constitutes a shower head to include the entire plumbing systems. That meant it wasn’t just the shower head that was limited to 2.5 gallons per minute, it was the whole system.

In August 2020, the Trump administration’s DOE revised the definition again, and the Biden administration’s DOE in July 2021 reinstated the Obama-era definition.

Steve Milloy, a senior legal fellow with the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute and publisher of JunkScience.com, told Just The News that he has a friend who carries tools and a high-flow shower head with him when he travels.

“He’ll replace the hotel’s shower head so that he can take a decent shower,” Milloy said.

Dishwashers

The Biden administration promotes the efficiency standards as a means by which it’s going to save Americans money — $10 billion over 30 years, according to a May announcement.

Milloy said that there’s no evidence those savings will be realized because the standards increase the purchase price and make the appliances worse. Not only do they have to be run longer to accomplish the same tasks, they break down more often.

“My mother had the same dishwasher for like 15 years. In 15 years, I’ve had three or four dishwashers,” Milloy said.

Jill Notini, vice president of communications and market for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, told Reason that appliance costs are going up “dramatically.”

"The food we are putting in the refrigerator is costing a lot more than it did a year or two ago. Now we're telling consumers not only is your food going to cost more, but your refrigerator will also cost you more,” Notini told Reason.

The DOE’s estimated savings of $100 million per year on its proposed dishwasher standards, Reason pointed out, is a pretty small per-capita savings, if true, when spread out over nearly 90 million households that have dishwashers.

During his campaign for president in 2020, then-President Donald Trump criticized the dishwasher efficiency standards that existed at the time, which will increase if the Biden administration’s rules are finalized.

“The dishwashers, they tend to have a little problem, they didn't get enough water, like, so people would run ‘em ten times, so they end up using more water, and the thing’s no damn good,” Trump said.

Gas Stoves

In November 2022, Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the elimination of fossil fuels, produced a study concluding that nearly 13% of childhood asthma cases could be linked to the use of gas stoves in the house.

The study, critics point out, didn’t factor into its analysis a much larger study by the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood of a half-million children in 47 countries that found no such association.

The following January, Richard Trumka Jr., commissioner of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, suggested in an interview with Bloomberg that a ban on gas stoves was possible.

The article set off a nationwide controversy, and not long after, the federal government proposed standards that would impact many stoves on the market.

These proposals were on top of efforts at the state level to ban natural gas hookups on new construction. A federal court shot down a Berkley, Calif., ban, throwing the state regulations into uncertainty.

Steve Everley, managing director with FTI consulting, cited a number of polls on a thread on X, which suggest the campaign to remove gas stoves may have backfired, as public support appears to diminish over time.

In January, a YouGov poll found a 50/50 split on the issue. This past November, a Yale poll found that fewer than one-third of Americans wanted an all-electric home.

Air conditioners

In March, the DOE announced it finalized efficiency standards for air conditioners, promising that they will save consumers $25 billion over 30 years.

In 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that nearly 90% of America’s 124 million homes used air conditioners. If the DOE’s estimated savings turn out to be accurate, the average American home will save $7.46 per year over the next three decades thanks to the DOE’s standards.

The new standards will increase the cost of new air conditioners, which means it’s likely there will be a net cost to consumers to comply with the federal mandates.

Furnaces

In October, the DOE announced final rules for residential gas furnaces, which will go into effect in 2028. The DOE claims the standards will slash utility costs $1.5 billion annually. Based on EIA’s figure of 124 million homes in America, that comes to approximately $12 per year per household.

Natural gas industry associations, led by the American Gas Association (AGA), filed a legal challenge against the rules earlier this month. The groups argue that the rule effectively bans the sale of non-condensing natural gas furnaces. These furnaces, the AGA explained in a statement announcing the lawsuit, rely on atmospheric venting outside the home.

The condensing furnaces rely on different venting systems, which the AGA said are difficult or impossible to install, especially in older homes and those in low-income neighborhoods.

Those residents who can’t install compliant furnaces will be forced to switch to electric heating equipment, which the AGA said is 3.3 times more expensive than natural gas, based on DOE figures.

Citing DOE data, the AGA said that 55% of U.S. households will be impacted, which includes 30 percent of senior-only households, 26 percent of low-income households and 27 percent of small business consumers.

This list isn’t comprehensive of all the federal regulations setting standards for a wide range of consumer products. And even a comprehensive list of these regulations wouldn’t include the state regulations that are looking to do the same.

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