The proposed rule would tighten the energy and water efficiency standards for residential dishwashers, despite the fact that the standards currently in effect are causing serious problems for consumers. Those problems include cycle times an hour or more longer than were the norm before the standards went into effect, as well as other adverse impacts. The proposed rule would exacerbate these problems and thus further violate the consumer protections built into the law. For these reasons, we believe the proposed rule should be withdrawn and that the Department of Energy (DOE) should shift its focus to addressing the drawbacks caused by its existing dishwasher regulations.
The undersigned organizations have a longstanding interest in advancing the principles of free markets and limited government. Several of us have participated in past rulemakings conducted by DOE regarding energy and water conservation standards for home appliances, including previous proceedings on dishwashers. 1 Our focus has been on ensuring that the consumer protections built into the underlying statute, the Energy and Policy Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), are given full weight by DOE in the rulemaking process. In our view, these protections have frequently been downplayed or ignored by the agency when setting excessively stringent appliance efficiency standards that raise overall costs and/or compromise product quality, choice, and value.
The agency has been particularly active thus far in 2023, proposing anti-consumer and likely illegal rulemakings for stoves, clothes washers, room air conditioners, refrigerators, and now dishwashers.2 This sweeping and aggressive approach to appliance regulations is explained in part by the administration’s “whole of government” prioritization of climate change considerations, which has been fully adopted by DOE.3 It is now standard practice for the agency to claim climate change benefits in its appliance rulemakings, despite the fact that EPCA prioritizes the interests of consumers over other considerations.
While each of the Biden administration’s recently-proposed appliance measures raises a unique set of risks for consumers, the proposed dishwasher rule at issue here is particularly harmful. As it is, the existing energy and water efficiency measures for dishwashers have led to widespread and well-documented dissatisfaction over cycle times that have more than doubled from about an hour to two or more. The proposal to tighten these provisions would very likely make things worse. Further, since the existing energy and water limits are already quite stringent, the proposal to tighten them would generate very little marginal savings.
Overall, dishwashers may well have the distinction of being the most overregulated home appliance, yet DOE now seeks to regulate them further.
EPCA does not allow DOE to set an efficiency standard that in any way compromises appliance quality, nor one that fails to save consumers a significant amount of energy and/or water. As will be discussed below, the proposed rule ignores these and other provisions in EPCA and should be withdrawn. Instead, the agency should use its authority under the statute to fix the problems with the current dishwasher regulations.
A. The Proposed Rule Exacerbates the Adverse Impacts of the Current Dishwasher Rule EPCA authorizes DOE to consider setting and periodically revising energy and/or water conservation standards for most home appliances, including dishwashers.4 Such standards are to be set so as to “achieve the maximum improvement in energy efficiency … which the Secretary determines is technologically feasible and economically justified.”5 But the statute does not end there. EPCA makes clear that the agency must not prioritize efficiency above all else in the standards-setting process. Instead, the statute contains a number of provisions protecting consumers from excessively stringent standards that may do more harm than good.
Most relevant here is the provision in the law, hereinafter the “features provision,” which categorically prohibits any new or amended standard if the Secretary finds, by a preponderance of evidence, that it is “likely to result in the unavailability in the United States … of performance characteristics (including reliability), features, sizes, capacities, and volumes that are substantially the same as those generally available in the United States at the time of the Secretary’s finding.”6 This provision prohibits setting an efficiency standard so stringent that it that would sacrifice any desired product characteristics.
Unfortunately, the features provision has already been flouted by previous energy and water efficiency standards for dishwashers, including the fourth and most recent one set in 2012.7 Most notably, the rule greatly increased the time it takes to do a load of dishes from an hour or less to two or more. DOE has acknowledged that the longer cycle times are a direct result of its rules. In the agency’s words, “[t]o help compensate for the negative impact on cleaning performance associated with decreasing water use and water temperature, manufacturers will typically increase the cycle time.”8
To its credit, the agency opted not to make things worse by setting more stringent standards in 2016, but the adverse impact of the previous ones persists.9