The Biden administration’s pursuit of climate change mitigation has led to a wave of new efficiency rules for household appliances, from microwaves to toothbrush chargers. These rules aim to reduce energy consumption, with the administration claiming they will save the average family $100 annually. However, industry leaders argue that these regulations come with a significant cost to consumers and negatively impact appliance performance.
Jill Notini, a spokesperson for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), said that these new regulations force manufacturers to redesign products, essentially taking a step back in innovation. “They are literally going to have to redesign products that will look closer to the 1950s than they do to 2020,” Notini stated.
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the new requirements, which affect ten product categories, resulting in higher production costs and, in some cases, difficulty in meeting the new standards. One industry executive described the situation as “an avalanche” and “unprecedented” in stringency and scope.
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) May 8, 2023
The Department of Energy’s recent proposal for dishwasher efficiency is an example of the administration’s aggressive approach. The new standards would require manufacturers to cut water use by more than one-third and reduce energy consumption by up to 27% for some models. The energy department claims that these rules will save consumers $17 annually on energy and water costs for a standard-size dishwasher, paying for the higher cost of the appliance within 2.4 years.
However, critics argue that these energy savings come with significant drawbacks, such as longer drying times and potential fabric damage for clothes dryers. In a letter to the Energy Department, Whirlpool executives warned that the new washing machine regulations would result in longer cycle times, more noise and vibration, increased clothing tangling, and less effective cleaning due to lower water and temperature allowances.
Manufacturers are especially concerned about the impact on lower-income consumers. The regulations target less energy-efficient, lower-priced items. For example, approximately 50% of the refrigerator market consists of top-freezer models, which are generally more affordable but less energy-efficient. Similarly, top-loading washing machines are usually less expensive than front-loading models, which have been gaining popularity.
In response to concerns, a Department of Energy spokesman highlighted a recent Morning Consult poll showing that 59% of adults, including 48% of Republicans, support stronger efficiency standards for appliances and buildings. The spokesman also noted that Samsung had supported the new efficiency standards for refrigerators and washing machines.
Despite these claims, the Energy Department’s analysis reveals potential challenges for the U.S. manufacturing sector. For example, the new rules for washers, dryers, and refrigerators alone could cost the industry over 16,000 jobs if manufacturers move to countries with cheaper labor to offset production cost increases.
Manufacturers urge the Energy Department to negotiate less-stringent standards for rules still under consideration, including those for washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators. But, as the Biden administration pushes forward with its aggressive plan to reduce emissions and combat climate change, whether a compromise can be reached to protect consumers’ wallets and expectations for a modern standard of living remains to be seen.