The Department of Energy (DOE) has been regulating the energy efficiency of home appliances since 1987, ostensibly for the benefit of consumers, but the Obama-era DOE transformed the program into a climate change policy tool. It did so both explicitly by including the social cost of carbon into its analysis of new and amended standards, and also implicitly by putting a finger on the scale, favoring sharply more stringent standards. Overall, the Obama DOE cranked out a record 44 such standards in 8 years.
The Trump DOE is now trying to re-align the program with its consumer-focused statutory roots by slowing the pace of new regulations and offering limited reforms, but this has been met with considerable resistance. The Energy Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the DOE program on March 7th.
Committee Democrats have already signaled that they will use the hearing to accuse the Trump DOE of shortchanging both consumers and the environment by not maintaining Obama’s aggressive pace of appliance regulations. Republicans, hopefully, will counter with the evidence that overly stringent standards hurt consumers by raising the up-front cost of appliances more than is likely to be earned back in the form of energy savings, and that some standards jeopardize product features and performance—dishwashers taking hours to do a load being one example.
Also on the agenda is DOE’s recent proposal to allow limited continued sales of incandescent light bulbs, reversing an Obama-era decision banning them all in 2020. Democrats have attacked this proposal, but have not explained what is so wrong with letting consumers choose for themselves.