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Biden admin targets Trump's let-the-water-flow legacy and other energy efficiency rules

The Energy Department on Friday announced a review of several Trump-era regulations.
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Former President Donald Trump's effort to loosen regulations dictating the water-flow levels of many household appliances and fixtures is under threat with the Biden administration announcing it will launch a federal review of several Trump-era rules and regulations governing the topic, in addition to other energy and efficiency-related edicts.

The Energy Department on Friday notified the Office of Management and Budget of the step, which begins a process that could result in the rescission or revision of those regulations. The changes garnered widespread attention last year after Trump went on several lengthy rants about his displeasure with the low water pressure provided by a number of household staples like showers and dishwashers.

The announcement comes after an executive order signed earlier by President Joe Biden which directed executive departments and federal agencies to review all Trump administration regulations that are out of line with Biden's efforts to address climate change. The order asked agencies to notify the OMB director within 30 days of his inauguration of a preliminary list of actions that will be subject to review.

"By reviewing these rules and regulations, the Department of Energy will determine whether policy changes are necessary to lower Americans’ energy bills, create manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and cut down on polluting carbon emissions," Kathleen Hogan, acting Undersecretary for Science and Energy, said in a statement.

If the Energy Department ultimately decides to propose any changes after that formal consideration process, those would be kicked back to OMB for review.

Among the regulations being reconsidered include those on showerheads, dishwashers and clothes washers and driers approved late last year, in addition to others involving light bulbs, furnaces, water heaters and other appliance and building standards authored by the Trump administration.

The showerhead rule allows for each showerhead in a fixture to reach the two-and-a-half gallon-per-minute maximum water flow rate mandated by Congress, which set those standards nearly 30 years ago. Previously, a showerhead fixture could only use two-and-a-half gallons per minute regardless of how many showerheads were on it, with the total usage collected cumulatively.

For both laundry machines and dishwashers, the Trump administration created new product classes with shorter wash times and, for dishwashers, different efficiency standards.

Conservatives, particularly those who are libertarian-minded, have long griped about the prior restrictions on water flow while challenging their environmental benefit. Environmentalists say they help conserve water and energy and lower bills for consumers without harming the quality of the fixture or appliance.

At the time those changes were announced, environmental advocates criticized the new rules as both unnecessary and potentially harmful to the environment.

Leaders at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project wrote the showerhead rule was "a gimmick in search of a problem" and could lead to wasting "enormous amounts of water and energy, which would increase utility bills and greenhouse gas emissions." They also said the rule on laundry machines "will increase utility bills and carbon emissions while undercutting manufacturers’ investments in efficient products."

“These last-minute Trump rules that allow for products that needlessly waste energy and water are ridiculous and out of step with the climate crisis and the long-term drought facing much of the country,” Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said in a statement. “The Biden administration can and should promptly reverse them.”

Meanwhile, conservatives active in this sphere understood these rules were likely to come under scrutiny in the Biden administration.

"The usual suspects have been criticizing [the new rules,] but our hope is that once the incoming people look at them they'll realize that these are actually good for consumers, and if anything they may well benefit the environment, not hurt it," Sam Kazman, general counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told NBC News last month.

For months beginning in late 2019, the then-president made water-flow complaints a focus of his speeches and rallies.

“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,” Trump told a crowd in Carson City, Nevada, late last year. “Now you can buy a dishwasher and it comes out beautiful. Go buy a dishwasher. Go buy it.”

In December 2019, Trump told reporters at the White House that his administration would be "looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms" at his direction, insisting that "people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once," and that "they end up using more water."

He would later tell rallygoers in Wisconsin: "Toilets and showers. You do not get any water."

The string of comments drew confusion from some, who thought the assessment was at least an exaggeration and at most outright false.

"I don't know what product they're using but I don't have to run it two or three times," former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President George W. Bush, told NBC News last year. "My dishwashers do just fine, thank you. I do it once. My dishes are clean and everybody's healthy. I don't know what they're talking about."