Do you think that Joe Biden’s regulators are sticking to promises not to target gas stoves? Think again, and it is not just stoves but also refrigerators, clothes washers, and several other appliances about to get hit with new restrictions that can raise prices, restrict choices, and compromise quality and performance. As with most bad regulations these days, it is justified in the name of fighting climate change.
After a powerful consumer backlash to efforts by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to consider restrictions up to and including a ban on natural gas stoves, the Biden administration stridently denied that it would ever do such a thing. And a dutiful media – including outlets that had reported favorably on the administration’s efforts to target gas stoves just days earlier – insisted suspicions to the contrary were a partisan myth. But on February 1, another regulatory proposal was released that also goes after stoves.
This time, it is not the CPSC but the Department of Energy (DOE). DOE has authority to consider efficiency standards for home appliances, including stoves. The agency is supposed to do so for the benefit of consumers, but several past efficiency standards have raised the up-front cost of appliances more than is likely to be earned back in the form of energy savings.
And now that the DOE admits addressing climate change is a top priority, agency bureaucrats are placing a finger on the scale favoring new rounds of aggressive standards. In its proposed crackdown on stoves, the agency points to “the need to confront the global climate crisis.”
Climate change activists both inside and outside the administration have bought into the war on natural gas in favor of electrification for those appliances that come in both gas and electric versions (heating, water heating, and cooking). Not surprisingly, the proposed standard is much tougher on natural gas stoves than electric versions. According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, nearly every natural gas stove on the market today would have to be substantially redesigned to meet the new requirements, while fewer electric stoves would. In addition to boosting the cost of gas stoves more than electric ones, DOE’s proposal may also require that the highest setting on natural gas burners be made less high in order to comply and that sturdy metal grates may have to be replaced with flimsier ones.
Thus, while DOE can’t explicitly ban gas stoves, it can and probably will use the regulatory process to tilt the balance in favor of electric versions. Already, the agency is in the process of regulating the efficiency of gas furnaces in ways that raise costs and compromise features relative to electric ones, even though natural gas is over three times cheaper on a per unit energy basis.
DOE is also going after electric appliances. On February 10, the agency announced proposed new efficiency standards for refrigerators and clothes washers. Both have already been hit with multiple rounds of successively-tighter standards over the years, and we are likely well past the point of diminishing marginal returns and into negative ones.
That’s not all. According to the Biden administration’s published regulatory agenda, other appliances may be next, including water heaters (another one that comes in both natural gas and electric versions), dishwashers (already overregulated to the point that compliant models take two or more hours to finish a load), ceiling fans, and light bulbs. Expect these and more appliance regulations to be justified, at least in part, by the claimed climate change benefits from a forced reduction in energy use.
None of this has any benefit for consumers. Those who want to buy ultra-efficient appliances or believe that replacing natural gas stoves and furnaces with electric versions will save the planet are free to do so at any time. Federal regulations merely force this choice on everyone, whether it makes sense for them or not.
The backlash to CPSC targeting gas stoves shows that the American people don’t like this kind of meddling in their appliance choices, but DOE’s recent efforts mean that the fight is far from over.