It’s not just your gas stove the Biden administration is seeking to regulate in the name of combating climate change – they’re coming for your entire home.
President Biden’s green energy goals have prompted a new array of efficiency rules for a slew of household appliances from microwaves to toothbrush chargers. The effort is forcing manufacturers to produce more costly products they say reverse innovation by decades and potentially eliminate thousands of U.S. jobs.
Biden administration officials are touting the new rules as part of the goal to take 100 actions “to strengthen energy efficiency standards for a range of appliances and equipment to lower costs for American families.”
Combined, the plethora of new rules would save the average family $100 annually in lower energy bills.
But industry leaders say the new rules come with steep up-front costs for consumers and negatively impact performance.
Rather than innovating new features sought by consumers, the ramped-up regulations for appliances are forcing manufacturers to go backward, said Jill Notini, a spokeswoman for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers
“They are literally going to have to redesign products that will look closer to the 1950s than they do to 2020,” Ms. Notini said.
The association and manufacturers have been working with the Energy Department to try to moderate the onslaught of new rules. But they are not making much progress, which manufacturers say breaks from a long tradition of manufacturers and administration officials working together on energy efficiency rules.
Manufacturers also say it is overwhelming them with higher production costs and, in some cases, difficulty meeting the new standards.
One industry executive described the cascade of regulations as “an avalanche” and “unprecedented” in stringency and scope.
The Department of Energy late last week quietly added yet another new rule that will force manufacturers to redesign appliances, introducing new proposed standards that will require dishwashers to cut water use, some by more than one-third, and reduce energy consumption by up to 27% for some models.
The proposed rules are even more drastic for washing machines.
The standards proposed by the Energy Department would eliminate 98% of all top-loading washing machines on the market today and would require manufacturers to make machines larger and remove the central agitator that increases cleaning performance. One manufacturer said the new efficiency standard would add $200 to the cost of a top-loading machine.
An accompanying rule for clothes dryers would end the sale of less expensive models that do not comply with strict federal Energy Star efficiency standards.
Manufacturers are also grappling with new energy rules for microwave ovens that would reduce power usage in standby mode. To meet the new caps, manufacturers say they may eliminate
backlighting and display clocks that remain lit while the microwave is not in use, as well as some higher-end sensors that improve performance.
The Energy Department is also ramping up efficiency standards for refrigerators, requiring more expensive compressors and insulation components that will raise costs and possibly reduce interior space. New efficiency rules are also coming for appliance chargers, air conditioners, air purifiers and gas stoves.
The Biden administration’s plan to increase the energy efficiency of gas stoves has received the lion’s share of public attention and outcry from manufacturers who say it will make it impossible to produce some of the more popular gas stove models and will increase cooking time significantly because burner size would have to shrink.
Industry insiders accuse the Department of Energy of ignoring manufacturer data on cost and performance and not backing down on the stringency or the swift pace of the new regulations as they work to meet President Biden’s aggressive plan to reduce emissions and combat climate change.
The administration is also rushing to comply with a lawsuit it settled with environmental groups over missed deadlines for updating energy efficiency standards during the Trump administration, though the deadline does not require stricter standards.
Most of the new rules will be finalized by next year, which will give manufacturers until 2027 to comply with all of them.
A top executive at one of the nation’s leading manufacturers, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the new rules, said appliance makers are overwhelmed by the onslaught of new requirements impacting ten different product categories.
“We’ve never had that many rules with compliance dates at the same time,” he said. “And the magnitude of the standards are very stringent. Something we haven’t seen before.”
A spokesman for the Department of Energy pointed to a recent Morning Consult poll showing 59% of adults back stronger efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, including 48% who identified as Republicans. The spokesman said one manufacturer, Samsung, expressed support for the new efficiency standards for refrigerators and washing machines.
“The Department is required by Congress to review appliance energy conservation standards and determine whether to amend such standards,” a department spokesman said. “As such, DOE will continue to build on our decades-long partnership with industry partners and stakeholders to improve the efficiency of household appliances and provide more Americans the opportunity to save on their utility bills, all without sacrificing the reliability and performance that consumers have come to expect and rely on.”
Energy savings for individual consumers would be small. The new washing machine rules would save less than $8 annually and the new clothes dryer efficiency standards would save $36 per year, according to the Energy Department.
In exchange for the energy savings, clothes would take much longer to dry, increasing the potential for fabric damage, warned Whirlpool executives in a letter to the Energy Department. The washing machine savings, they said, would come with longer cycle times, more noise and vibration, an increase in tangled clothes and less effective cleaning due to lower water and temperature allowances.
The up-front cost increases for appliances to meet the new standards will also impact lower-income consumers the most, manufacturers said, because they target lower-priced items that are less energy-efficient, such as refrigerators with freezers on top, which make up about 50% of the refrigerator market. Top-loading washers are typically less expensive than the more energy-efficient, front-loading machines which are rebounding in popularity, while ower-cost dryers that do not meet Energy Star requirements would be pushed out of the market entirely.
Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which is in favor of the new rules, said the energy cost savings might seem small, but they will add up.
“Standards can be particularly beneficial for saving money for low-income households,” Mr. DeLaski said, pointing to the proposed refrigerator rules as an example. “According to the DOE, most low-income households have a refrigerator with a freezer on top. Of the low-income households with this type of refrigerator, DOE estimates that 75% are renters, meaning that they don’t incur the cost of purchasing a refrigerator and yet most of the time they accrue the electricity bill savings.”
The Biden administration also calculates the financial savings as a whole for everyone who buys the new appliances and they promote the total energy savings for the entire nation.
In addition to household appliances, the administration is increasing energy efficiency standards on dozens of other items, including light bulbs, gas furnaces, water heaters and industrial equipment.
The projected consumer savings, officials said, would be $570 billion cumulatively.
Once finalized, Biden officials said in a statement, the new rules will cut greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 2.4 billion metric tons, “equivalent to the carbon emissions from 10 million homes, 17 million gas cars or 21 coal-fired power plants over 30 years.”
Buried in the Energy Department’s analysis are troubling figures for the nation’s manufacturing sector.
The department has calculated the new rules for washers, dryers and refrigerators alone could cumulatively cost the manufacturing industry more than 16,000 U.S. jobs if manufacturers choose to move to countries with cheaper labor to mitigate production cost increases. They also crunch numbers to show jobs could increase here due to the new rules if manufacturers stay put.
Manufacturers don’t want to make that choice and are not giving up on a compromise. They continue to urge Energy Department officials to work out less stringent standards on the rules that are still under consideration, including washing machines, dryers and refrigerators. The talks may include environmental groups who are pressuring the department to maintain stricter standards.
“What we’re trying to do is pull them back and say we’re trying to find something reasonable here that doesn’t really hurt consumers, that doesn’t really have those negative impacts on cost and utility,” the manufacturing insider said. “We are trying to get them to the table to have discussions about that, and we might work with other stakeholders as well to try to come to a more reasonable compromise here.”