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Press Release

Energy Department’s Dishwasher Rule Finds Nothing to Fix

October 23, 2020
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Washington, DC — A dishwasher regulation announced by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today—heralded repeatedly by President Trump over the past year—will do nothing to improve today’s machines, which perform far more effectively than older models even while using less energy and water.

The new DOE final rule creates a separate “product class” for dishwashers with a short cycle as the “normal” cycle and sets no limit on their energy or water use. However, the vast majority of today’s dishwashers already offer short cycles, which in some instances consume modestly more energy than the default cycles but are used infrequently according to surveys.

“The president and the Department of Energy have given two completely different reasons for why this rule is needed, and neither makes sense,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). “President Trump says dishwashers don’t work as well as they used to, yet tests find that today’s models clean far better than the old ones. The Department of Energy says consumers need options for quick cycles, but those are already ubiquitous. In the end, this rule will neither make dishwashers perform better nor offer quicker cycles.”

Dishwasher water and energy use have declined by more than 50% over the past three decades, thanks to federal standards and manufacturer innovations. Congress set the first energy efficiency standard for dishwashers in 1987; Congress has updated it once and the Department of Energy has updated it twice since then, most recently in 2012.

Cleaning performance has improved in the same period. Product reviewers at Consumer Reports said in 2018 that “[n]ew models clean better and more quietly” and “already do such a good job at cleaning that new features don’t often change our test results much.” The product review website Wirecutter recently found that dishwashers sold today are “better than before” and that poor performance is usually due to improper use.

Under the existing rules, short cycles today may use more energy or water than the cycle recommended for normal loads. The new product class could encourage new dishwashers with short “normal” cycles that use far higher amounts of energy and water but don’t make dishes any cleaner.

“They’re declaring a fix to a problem that never existed,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “And while the Department has been wasting time and taxpayer money making pointless and illegal rule changes, it’s been flouting the law by missing one legal deadline after another for reviewing and updating other efficiency standards. Energy Department officials keep telling Congress that they’re focused on meeting legal deadlines and prioritizing standards that will save the most energy, but this dishwasher rule does neither.”

DOE issued a similar proposal in August that would eliminate existing standards for clothes washers and dryers with a short cycle as the “normal” cycle. Both today’s rule and the proposal for washers and dryers would violate the appliance standards law’s “anti-backsliding” provision prohibiting DOE from weakening standards.

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Ben Somberg
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