This is the third article in CEI’s Special Briefing Series: Defending the Personal Energy Choices of Americans.
It isn’t just gas stoves. The Biden administration has a bad regulation in the works for almost every home appliance. These regulations can boost upfront costs, compromise appliance quality, and reduce choices. And they all place the administration’s extreme climate agenda ahead of the best interests of homeowners.
With an agenda so out of touch, it isn’t surprising that some in Congress are fighting back. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation blocking proposed stove regulations, and other bills have been introduced that would do the same for water heaters and other appliances.
Although there is some bipartisan support for these commonsense measures – each of the two stove bills had 29 House Democrats joining all Republicans in favor – such legislation will have a much more difficult time in the Democratically-controlled Senate. Most likely, they won’t ever be scheduled for a vote. That is why resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act are a powerful tool. These resolutions provide a streamlined means for Congress to block federal regulations. Once introduced, any resolution to kill off an appliance regulation cannot be kept off the Senate calendar. And, if certain conditions are met they cannot be filibustered, in which case a simple majority would be sufficient.
Here are five anti-consumer appliance regulations that have been recently-finalized (furnaces and air conditioners), or soon will be, which are prime targets for resolutions of disapproval:
1) Furnaces – Since no two homes are exactly alike, it makes sense to have a wide variety of furnace types available. However, a recently finalized Department of Energy (DOE) efficiency standard would effectively outlaw the type of furnace that is the best choice for millions of homeowners. Specifically, the rule eliminates the option of non-condensing natural gas furnaces in favor of condensing versions. Condensing furnaces are more energy efficient and thus comply with the rule, but they are costlier and not easily compatible with the venting systems in many homes that currently have non-condensing furnaces. Beyond higher installation costs, it may not be practical or even possible to make the switch to a condensing furnace in some homes. This is especially true of older homes disproportionately owned by low and fixed-income households. Like other DOE efficiency standards, the furnace rule claims substantial climate change benefits, but they are every bit as questionable as the claimed consumer benefits.
2) Air conditioners – The Environmental Protection Agency recently finalized a ban on the most affordable central air conditioner models on grounds that they are insufficiently climate-friendly. Expect a jump in prices when this new rule takes effect in 2025. Most notably, compliant models must use new agency-approved refrigerants that are supposedly climate-friendlier. However, these refrigerants have the disadvantage of being classified as slightly flammable, which not only raises safety issues but also necessitates the addition of expensive sensors to detect refrigerant leaks and automatic shutoffs when leaks do occur. Some manufacturers are privately predicting price increases up to 20 percent, which could be $1,000 or more depending on the size of the system.
3) Washing machines – Washing machines have already been impacted by successively tighter water and energy use limits in 1994, 2004, 2007, 2015, and 2018. Despite serious impacts on performance, the DOE has proposed a new rule making the water and energy use limits even more stringent. As it is, the amount of water currently allowed per cycle has proven to be too little to consistently get clothes clean. Some homeowners have resorted to using a garden hose or bucket to add water mid-cycle, while others try to modify their machines to increase the flow. Mold accumulation, which was never a problem in models made before these regulations took effect, is now quite common and can cause bad odors and staining of clothes. In addition, repairmen report that the reliability and longevity of washing machines has also been compromised. And now, the agency risks making things worse, and all for marginal utility bill savings it estimates at $1.50 to $10.00 per year.
4) Stoves – A proposed DOE efficiency standard for stoves would disproportionately target natural gas stoves over electric ones. While the proposed rule would not be an outright ban of new gas stoves, compliant models would have to sacrifice several features that have made gas the choice of 38 percent of homeowners and the strong preference of serious cooks. For example, the highest heat settings needed for such tasks as searing and stir-frying would have to be reduced. Convenience may also be impacted as the weaker burners would lead to gas stove users spending nearly one extra day per year waiting for water to boil. And all for an energy savings the agency generously estimates at $1.51 per year. Not that the proposed rule goes easier on electric stoves than natural gas versions, likely because natural gas is a fossil fuel and thus a target of the administration’s climate agenda. But doing so compromises consumers’ freedom of choice.
5) Dishwashers – Dishwashers are already badly over-regulated, but DOE is at it again with the agency’s fifth proposed standard further reducing the allowable levels of water and energy they can use. Previous standards have increased the time it takes to do a load of dishes from about one hour to two or more. Cleaning performance has also been compromised. Ironically, a good dishwasher can save people on energy, water, and time as compared to hand washing, but because of poor performance many homeowners now have to rinse the dishes before and/or after running them, and may have to run some loads twice – potentially wasting energy, water, and time. Imposing yet another regulation would only make things worse.
Granted, even a joint House/Senate resolution of disapproval for an appliance regulation would likely meet with a White House veto. President Biden is unlikely to kill off regulations created by his own bureaucrats, and in any event he has shown little flexibility on his costly climate agenda. Nonetheless, such clear statements of congressional opposition to these anti-consumer regulations would set the stage for future repeals, and also make a compelling case to use policy riders in spending bills to withhold funding for the implementation of these rejected rules.
It is worth emphasizing that there is literally no downside for homeowners in stopping these regulations. Anyone who wants the eco-friendly appliances favored by the Biden administration is free to choose them, with or without federal meddling. The only thing these rules do is force the Biden administration’s preferred choices on everyone, regardless of whether it makes sense for Americans or not. Thus, congressional rejection of each of these rules under the CRA would expand consumer choice and thus benefit American homeowners.