by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It is hard to find anything in Washington more inefficient than an efficiency standard for home appliances. Each standard can require more than 30 bureaucratic steps and generate thousands of pages of documents over several years, yet the end result often leaves consumers worse off. That was before the Obama administration’s Department of Energy decided to make the program even more troublesome for consumers by repurposing it into a global warming policy tool. Thankfully, the Trump administration is trying to inject some rationality into the appliance standards process, and these efforts should be welcomed.
In 1987, DOE began regulating the energy use of air conditioners, refrigerators, washer/dryers, ovens, water heaters, and just about everything else that plugs in or fires up around the house. Ever since, the agency has periodically revisited and tightened these standards, as many as four times for some products.
The goal is to reduce energy bills, but even DOE admits that for some consumers, these standards raise the up-front price of appliances more than what will be earned back in the form of energy savings. This was particularly true of air conditioner standards but also refrigerators and several others. Low-income and senior households are most likely to experience net costs, according to the agency.