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Trump Can't Do Much About Toilets, But Can Stop Other Anti-Homeowner Regulations

President Trump created more controversy than usual last week when he complained about water-saving faucets, shower heads, and—especially—toilets. “You turn on the faucet and you don't get any water, they take a shower and water comes dripping out, just dripping out, very quietly dripping out,” he said, adding that “people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once.”

He also had a dig at energy-saving light bulbs. “The new bulb is many times more expensive, and, I hate to say it, it doesn’t make you look as good,” he said, blaming the new bulbs for making him look orange. 

He pledged to have the regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) look into providing relief for consumers.  

To be clear, Trump was incorrect on several specifics, and the usual critics let him have it. For one thing, these regulations are mostly the responsibility of the Department of Energy (DOE), not the EPA. Further, the water use restrictions for faucets and showerheads and toilets cannot be easily changed since they come straight out of a law enacted in 1992 (under the first President Bush). Thus, they can only be repealed by passing another law, which is highly unlikely in the current Congress. And, to be fair, today’s water-saving models are an improvement over the first ones that hit the market when the law took effect in 1994, plus the water-reducing flow restrictor device in most faucets and showerheads can be easily removed. Still, there continue to be legitimate homeowner complaints, and the sheer ridiculousness of federal meddling in our bathrooms and kitchens persists.

But for light bulbs and other energy-using household goods, Trump administration actions are making a real difference.

Light bulb regulations were part of a massive 2007 energy bill signed by the second President Bush (what is it with this family?) authorizing the Department of Energy (DOE) to set efficiency standards for them. These provisions were enthusiastically and aggressively implemented by the Obama administration, including regulations expanding the reach of these rules that were finalized on January 19, 2017, one day before Trump took office. 

The Trump-era DOE has done a complete 180. First, it reversed these last-minute light bulb rules. Next, in complying with a statutory requirement to consider tightening the existing efficiency standards, it has preliminarily chosen not to do so—a very good thing since the agency’s analysis showed that a tougher standard would raise the price of a new incandescent bulb to $7 each and thus effectively remove them from the marketplace. Indeed, killing off the incandescent light bulb is the real goal of the swamp, which views Edison’s invention as an inefficient relic that contributes to climate change.  

The incandescent critics do have a point—alternatives are available that are better for many purposes. No, not those twisty compact fluorescent bulbs which for years were touted as the next big environmental breakthrough (and may have been what Trump had in mind), but suffered from poor light quality and high cost. More recently, companies have come up with very good light emitting diode (LED) bulbs that are both more energy efficient and longer lasting than incandescents. But LEDs do cost more, and are not yet up to par with incandescents for certain functions such as dimming.  

What Trump gets, and so many others don’t, is that the issue isn’t whether LEDs are better than incandescent bulbs. The real issue is who ought to decide such things—consumers or the government. And Trump has taken a sharp turn away from official Washington by trusting consumers to choose for themselves.

Beyond light bulbs, the administration has positive steps on other appliances in the works. This includes responding to a petition filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute requesting changes to the regulations that resulted in dishwashers taking multiple hours to finish a load. Trump has also refused to go along with a United Nations treaty that would jack up air conditioner costs by targeting the most commonly-used refrigerants as contributors to climate change.         

One can argue that government restrictions on household appliances are not that important compared to other issues. But a federal government that thinks it should be dictating these choices is a government that has forgotten its limits, and its limitations. Trump is giving it an important reminder.