Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Wednesday announced a proposal that would allow new clothes washers and dryers that waste unlimited amounts of energy and water, raising home utility bills and carbon emissions.
(The DOE also announced a proposal Wednesday to approve new showerheads that use enormous amounts of water and energy—see blog post in response.)
The current efficiency standards for washing machines, which were set in 2012, save a typical consumer $365 over the life of an appliance, when factoring both utility bills and purchase costs. Federal law prohibits DOE from weakening efficiency standards, but the new proposed rule would attempt to dodge that prohibition by creating a separate “product class” specifically for machines that have a short cycle as their “normal” cycle. Such machines would have no energy efficiency or water use standard, at least until one was developed, which generally takes years. Most new washing machines already have a short cycle as an option.
“They’re trying to get around the law. There’s no other way to interpret it,” said American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) executive director Steven Nadel. “If they move ahead with this, they’re likely to get challenged on the legality of it. If this plan made it through the courts, consumers could unwittingly get stuck with appliances that waste energy and water, driving up their bills.”
The first energy and water efficiency standards for washers and dryers were set by Congress in 1987 during the Reagan administration. Thanks to a series of strengthened standards, washing machines now use, on average, about 75% less energy than they did before the first standard, according to industry data, even while many handle bigger loads. In the meantime, product prices have decreased while performance has improved. Consumer Reports had to make its washing performance tests harder over the years to keep up with improving technology and to better differentiate products.
“For three decades, washers and dryers have gotten more and more efficient while performing better. We shouldn’t go back to models that waste huge amounts of energy and water but don’t get clothes any cleaner,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP). “DOE appears more interested in notching up another senseless regulatory rollback than in saving energy and helping consumers reduce their utility bills.”
Last year, DOE proposed a similar “short-cycle” rule to roll back dishwasher standards. DOE also eliminated light bulb standards and has proposed a policy to head off future standards for furnaces and other gas appliances.