Federal Efficiency Rules Ruin Washing Machines

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Washington, D.C., May 7, 2007—New findings by Consumer Reports on washing machines demonstrate that their performance has been severely degraded by federal energy efficiency standards.  The findings should raise alarms about the federal government’s push to tighten its energy conservation mandates, especially when it comes to more complex technologies such as the automobile.

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The just released June issue of Consumer Reports finds that many new top-loading models are “sacrificing cleaning ability” due to the Department of Energy’s new standards.  The standards, which were issued in 2001 but took effect this year, require the machines to use twenty-one percent less energy.  The new models comply with these rules, but when it came to cleaning ability “some had the lowest scores we’ve seen in years”, according to the magazine. High performing models are still available, the magazine notes, but often at $900-1000 more.  This is in sharp contrast to DOE’s claims, in 2001, that the new rules would save consumers money and not affect cleaning ability.


The findings for washing machines should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the federal government’s fuel efficiency program for new cars. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules, in place since 1975, have also had the effect of downgrading performance – specifically safety, in large part due to new cars being made lighter. According to the National Academy of Sciences, CAFE rules contribute to thousands of deaths a year.


“The government’s claims that its efficiency standards would give us a better product have turned out to be absolutely false,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute General Counsel Sam Kazman. “Instead, it has managed to take a simple, reliable, low-cost appliance and wreck it. Why should we believe that government will do any better on something as complex as the car?”


As the Senate Commerce Committee meets tomorrow to mark up more stringent CAFE standards, the example of the humble washing machine is especially relevant. Poorly functioning household appliances are bad enough; vehicles that are less safe are far worse.


For CEI commentary on the Department of Energy regulations when they issued, see this op-ed from 2001. For a short video guide to the CAFE program, see The Simpleton’s Guide to Fuel Standards on YouTube.


CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.