Fifteen states have threatened to sue the Trump administration unless the Department of Energy (DOE) sets new energy efficiency standards for 25 appliances. Almost every point these states make in favor of more such regulations is problematic, but worst of all is the assertion that they would benefit consumers.
With or without such standards, any consumer who wants to buy an ultra-efficient air conditioner or clothes washer or oven is free to do so. For virtually every appliance category, there are manufacturers making models that go above and beyond the current efficiency requirements. And federal energy use labels provide consumers with all the information they need to make informed decisions, along with the federal government’s Energy Star program, which identifies the most efficient models in each product category.
Stringent regulations only serve to force the ultra-efficient choice on everyone, which for many is a bad one. DOE’s energy efficiency program has been around for over 30 years, and by this point nearly every major energy-using home appliance has been subjected to three, four, or even five rounds of successively tighter standards. The track record shows that several past standards raised the purchase price of the appliance more than is earned back in the form of energy savings. For example, the Clinton and Obama administrations went ahead with standards for air conditioners and refrigerators despite their own analysis showing that many if not most buyers would lose money on net, and that low-income households would be hit the hardest. The latest push for yet another round of such standards would make things even more anti-consumer.
Worse, some standards require marginal energy (or water) savings that come at the expense of product performance. This includes dishwashers that now take hours longer to finish a load—DOE is considering a solution to this—as well as efficient clothes washers that must be periodically cleaned and disinfected to get the stink out. Who knows what unpleasant surprises would be in store should a whole new round of standards be imposed?
The regulatory excess got worse when the Obama administration started to take climate change into account. Overblown calculations of the climate damage energy-using appliances supposedly inflict—the so-called social cost of carbon—became a finger on the scale favoring more stringent standards. But doing so made consumers even less of a priority in the standard-setting process and increased the likelihood of overly strict rules.
The Obama administration set a record high 44 appliance efficiency standards, while Trump is on pace to set a record low. The 15 states want a return to the Obama approach, but it is the Trump DOE that has the best interests of consumers at heart.