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Michael E. Mann Trump's toilet obsession is a metaphor for years of flushing climate progress down the drain

Refusing to be distracted by a crisis that has given us apocalyptic wildfires and a devastating hurricane season, Trump and his Republican enablers have kept their eyes on the prize.
Image: Donald Trump, Stephen Miller, and Kellyanne Conway Talk to the Media
Donald Trump talks to reporters outside the White House on Oct. 11, 2019.Mark Peterson / Redux Pictures file

Throughout his presidency, President Donald Trump seemed to consider himself better suited for a throne than the Oval Office. But judging by his all-hours tweeting, it’s possible the only throne he could find was made of porcelain. So perhaps it's no surprise that after spending four years denying climate change and rolling back environmental protections, one of his last moves as his administration circles the drain is to mandate that showers and dishwashers be allowed to use excessive amounts of water.

Trump totally owns this anti-environmental move. It is Trump alone who has been obsessed with the water flow from showers and toilets.

Unlike his regulatory rollbacks at the Environmental Protection Agency, where the polluters who helped elect Trump simply handed him a wish list that the former lobbyists he hired to run the government tried to grant, Trump totally owns this anti-environmental move. It is Trump alone who has been obsessed with the allegedly low water flow from showers and toilets.

Last year he told reporters that the administration was "looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms" because low flow standards are forcing people to flush "toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once." He also repeated these claims at campaign rallies in the lead-up to the presidential election.

Where are these superflushers? I've certainly never had to flush that many times and don't know anyone who has. And let’s face it: If you're flushing a dozen times, you probably need to see your doctor, not your plumber. But then again, Trump has never been bothered much by pesky things like facts and evidence. This is particularly true when it comes to climate change, which Trump spent the past four years alternatively dismissing or worsening, from declaring it a hoax to blaming the worst impacts (e.g., unprecedented California wildfires) on an absence of leaf raking to being the only head of state in the world to pull out of the Paris agreement.

In the year since Trump’s brave defense of frequent flushers, none seem to have come forward with public comments or requests for stronger toilets. And that’s a good thing, since these two latest Trump rule changes probably won't do much to address that issue.

While Savickas must be pleased, the Biden administration will almost certainly undo this change, flushing it down the drain with the rest of Trump's polluting policies.

But what the new rules do allow is fancy showerheads that can use more water. In 1992, Congress set the standard of a 2.5-gallon-per-minute maximum flow for showerheads, which today manufacturers are quite used to. Most units sold now already use significantly less water than the limit allows anyway, so it's not like there's a huge demand for more wasteful units. All this new rule does is make it so that a manufacturer could put a bunch of little showerheads (each of which conforms to the 2.5 gpm limit) on one big one.

To be fair, Trump’s rule change will have fans among anti-regulatory libertarians, perhaps the one group that does seem to care deeply about showerheads.

"People do have to run their appliances multiple times because of water efficiency standards," Daniel Savickas, the regulatory policy director for the Koch brothers-founded libertarian group FreedomWorks, told NBC News in January. "I don't think people are flushing their toilets 10 times, but they're definitely reusing dishwashers, flushing multiple times, at least. And that has drawbacks across the economy."

While Savickas must be pleased, the Biden administration will almost certainly undo this change, flushing it down the drain with the rest of Trump's polluting policies. And that means it's unlikely that any manufacturers will be eager to make a multiheaded shower that they'll only be able to sell for a couple months.

Then there's the Department of Energy’s move to create a new class of faster washers and dryers that are allowed to consume more energy than existing ones. It’s a solution looking for a problem. No one's really asking for these appliances, and companies would be taking a big risk producing them on the eve of Biden’s inauguration.

But apparently it made Trump feel good to know that with all the power of the federal government at his disposal, he could make showers wetter. Refusing to be distracted by a climate crisis that has given us apocalyptic wildfires, a devastating hurricane season, a raging pandemic that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and a massive economic recession, Trump and his Republican enablers have kept their eyes on the prize: luxury, water-wasting showerheads.

The contrast with the incoming Biden administration couldn't be more stark. With an all-star tag team of Gina McCarthy and John Kerry ready to start cleaning up emissions at home and abroad, one can already begin to feel four years of Trumpian climate denial and deregulation begin to wash away — no high-flow showerhead required.

Not all of the damage done by four years of Trump can easily be undone. If nothing else, we’ve lost precious time in the race to limit carbon emissions below dangerous levels. But it’s not too late to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The hard work starts now.