Challenging DC Over Potty Politics

Appeared in The Detroit Free Press, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Orange County Register, The Sacramento Bee, and Lima News

Of all the bills now facing Congress, the Plumbing Standards Improvement Act may affect you the most. The bill, introduced by. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg, a Republican from Michigan, would repeal provisions in a 1992 law mandating the highly unpopular low-flow toilets now tormenting American%

Don’t laugh. Well, laugh a little bit, but this bill is an important battle in a war against a federal government gone awry, a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” that nonetheless does things the people can’t stand, like forcing us to endure expensive new toilets that don’t work well.

Included in the numerous provisions of the massive 1992 Energy Policy Act was a requirement that, by 1994, all new toilets sold in the United States must use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf in Washingtonspeak), well below the 3.5 gpf models most Americans are accustomed to. The stated purpose of this standard, implemented by the Department of Energy, was to conserve water. The bill, which also regulates water flow in new shower heads and faucets, generated little controversy at the time and passed easily.

But now, with the law in effect for several years, there are millions of Americans moving into new homes or remodeling bathrooms who have had to deal with these brave new toilets. The reaction thus far has been strongly negative. In addition to costing more than the old versions, the new low-flow models don’t work as well. Many people say they have to flush several times to clear out the bowl, which of course defeats the entire purpose of water conservation.

Other people have experienced more frequent clogs, and thus increased cleaning and maintenance. Such complaints have flooded into dissatisfied homeowners have reportedly turned to a growing black market in the remaining 3.5 gpf toilets, which now sell at a premium.

An intrusive and annoying federal “solution” is bad enough, all the more so when it is chasing a nonexistent threat. ‘There is no national water crisis,’ says Terry Anderson, water policy expert and executive director of the Political Economy Research Cen- ter in Bozeman, Mont. Quite the con- trary, Anderson adds that “water is cheap and plentiful throughout most of the United States.”

Thus there is no justification for Knollenberg’s office. Indeed, some onerous national austerity measures. Those areas that do have water shortages or inadequate sewage- treatment facilities can best deal with these problems at the local level.

Doubtless they could find smarter ways to reduce water use than re- quiring dysfunctional toilets. So why would the federal government do something that is both unpopular and unnecessary? Special-interest politics, of course.

Low-flow toilets, like many other eco-fiiendly mandates, have three sources of support — federal bureau- crats, environmental activists and op- portunistic manufacturers. In this in- stance, all three came out ahead.

Conspicuously absent from Wash- ington’s potty politics was anyone giving voice to the wishes of affected consumers, the ones who have to live with these newfangled toilets. In fact, nowhere is there any indication of an effort to determine if the American people actually wanted them.

Fortunately, the fight is not yet over. Against the powerful and well- connected forces of the commode com- missars, a freedom fighter has emerged. Knollenberg is taking a stand not just for better toilets but for better and more limited government. ‘The federal government should be out of our bathrooms,’ is his oft-quoted rallying ay. He has become the Patrick Henry of porcelain. And, judging by the public response, there are many freedom-loving patriots ready to support the cause. Knollenberg’s toilet crusade, though commendable, will need to be repeated in many similar contexts, .a a number of equally dumb appliance regulations are currently in the pipeline. For, example, the Energy Department is considering a ban on top loading washing machines in favor of front-loading models. As with the 1.6 gpf toilets, these new machines which supposedly save water and energy, are more expensive and have several performance drawbacks.

But department bureaucrats and their outside consultants (including the same “experts” who insist that the 1.6 gpf toilets are a great success; claim that consumers will love the new washers, once they are forced to buy them. Of course, this new regulation is supported by a few front-loader producers hoping to make a killing once competition with the preferred model is put to an end.

Again and again, federal bureaucrats, with the support of environmental advocacy groups and advantage-seeking manufacturers, are spending our dollars to further limit our choices in the marketplace. Apparently, money and individual liberty are two scarce resources Washington isn’t interested in saving.