Not content with merely getting rid of the Trump administration’s more liberal standards, the Biden administration has proposed strict new energy efficiency rules for dishwashers.
On Friday, the Department of Energy proposed a sweep of energy efficiency standards affecting electric motors, vending machines, and dishwashers that it says will collectively save Americans $652 million in utility bills every year.
“This Administration is using all of the tools at our disposal to save Americans money while promoting innovations that will reduce carbon pollution and combat the climate crisis,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in a press release.
Including Friday’s proposed changes, the administration has proposed tightening energy efficiency standards for 16 product categories, including many home appliances. The DOE has opened or finalized rules on microwave ovens, normal ovens, refrigerators, and laundry machines in just the last few months.
“We’re seeing costs of new products going up dramatically,” says Jill Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). “The food we are putting in the refrigerator is costing a lot more than it did a year or two ago. Now we’re telling consumers not only is your food going to cost more, but your refrigerator will also cost you more.”
Meeting DOE standards will cost manufacturers $2.5 billion, according to AHAM’s aggregation of the DOE’s own cost estimates. That figure doesn’t include the costs of the latest dishwasher mandates.
The department estimates that consumers will save $3 billion over the next 30 years, or $100 million per year, on their utility bills thanks to the rougher rules. That’s a pretty small per capita savings when spread across the 89 million dishwasher-owning households.
The Biden administration is pushing appliance regulation in the opposite direction of where it was headed under former President Donald Trump, who took a particular, personal interest in liberating American households from performance-worsening appliance rules, including those affecting dishwashers.
“The dishwashers, they had a little problem. They didn’t give enough water, so people would run them 10 times, so they end up using more water. And the thing’s no damn good. We freed it up,” said Trump on the campaign trail in October 2020.
Research performed by the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute found that dishwasher cycle times have steadily increased to meet ever-tighter energy efficiency standards requiring machines to use less water and electricity. Manufacturers have met these standards by having machines recirculate less water throughout a longer wash cycle.
That’s encouraged some dishwasher-owning households to switch to even less efficient hand-washing.
Trump’s DOE created a new “short-cycle” regulatory category that allowed manufacturers to make products that didn’t meet existing efficiency standards for cycles that took an hour or less.
The Biden administration finalized the repeal of that Trump rule in February 2022. Its new proposed rule will require manufacturers to hit even stricter energy efficiency rules for new dishwashers starting in 2027.
DOE assures the public that its rule will not worsen dishwasher quality. It’ll only improve energy and water efficiency.
“They have to say that because by law they can’t set a performance standard that compromises product quality in any way,” says Ben Lieberman, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Lieberman also argues that one-size-fits-all regulations don’t take into account the different ways consumers might use their appliances. Those doing dishes frequently might be eager to spend more money on a more expensive dishwasher model if it meant lower utility bills in the long run. Someone who runs their machine less will see fewer savings from higher energy efficiency and, therefore, prioritize the purchase of a model with cheaper upfront costs.