A federal appeals court struck down Department of Energy (DOE) regulatory actions targeting dishwashers as part of the Biden administration’s aggressive climate and energy efficiency agenda.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling late Monday overturning the DOE’s decision in 2022 to repeal a Trump-era regulation governing water use in dishwashers and clothes washers. The panel’s ruling is a victory for both Republican states which sued DOE over its actions and consumer advocacy groups which have argued against overly-burdensome standards for home appliances.
“Even if DOE could consider dishwashers’ and clothes washers’ ‘efficiency’ in both ‘energy use’ and ‘water use,’ the 2020 Rules likely promoted greater efficiency in both categories than the Repeal Rule,” the court’s decision stated. “Assuming both energy conservation metrics are on the table, the States argue, and DOE does not appear to dispute, that one important aspect of that problem is whether appliance regulations actually reduce energy and water consumption.”
“Yet the administrative record contains ample evidence that DOE’s efficiency standards likely do the opposite: They make Americans use more energy and more water for the simple reason that purportedly ‘energy efficient’ appliances do not work,” it continued.
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Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm hosts a Department of Energy news conference in Washington, D.C. (REUTERS/Mary F. Calver/File Photo)
The Fifth Circuit ruling added that highly-efficient dishwashers which use less water often force consumers to run multiple cycles or to manually handwash dishes, leading to both more overall energy and water use.
The case dates back to 2020 when the Trump administration adopted standards that the consumer group Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) crafted two years prior. Those standards, according to CEI, allowed for the sale of faster dishwashers and clothes washers that use slightly more water and energy.
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Then, shortly after President Biden took office in 2021, DOE moved to repeal the standards, an action it finalized in early 2022. Months later, a dozen Republican state attorneys general filed a legal challenge, asking the court to reinstate the 2020 regulations.
“These arbitrary washing machine regulations are unlawful, ineffective, and absolutely ridiculous,” Mark Brnovich, the then-attorney general of Arizona, said at the time. “They should be hung out to dry as soon as possible.”
In addition to revoking the Trump administration’s dishwasher regulations, the Department of Energy announced the new dishwasher energy efficiency standards in May 2023. (Getty Images)
DOE’s actions violated the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and were “arbitrary and capricious,” the lawsuit argued. The Fifth Circuit appeared to agree with the states in its ruling Monday, even appearing to cast doubt on DOE’s authority to regulate dishwasher water use at all.
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“In this opinion, the court has forced DOE to follow the law and even noted that one of the positions DOE took in this suit ‘borders on frivolous.’ This decision allows manufacturers to build better dishwashers, not be encumbered by counterproductive federal regulations,” CEI attorney Devin Watkins said on Monday evening.
The ruling, meanwhile, comes amid the Biden administration’s broad efforts to regulate appliances and decrease the energy consumption of the residential sector. According to federal data, the commercial and residential sector accounts for 30% of total end-use carbon emissions in the U.S., the largest share of any sector including industry, transportation and agriculture.
The Biden administration’s war on appliances is a key cog in its efforts to rapidly decarbonize the U.S. economy. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Environmentalists have long argued in favor of appliance and energy efficiency regulations given their high use of electricity and natural gas. Green energy groups have called for the electrification of homes and businesses, reducing reliance on natural gas and simultaneously replacing current fossil fuel-fired power with alternatives like wind and solar.
DOE has pursued regulations targeting gas stoves, water heaters, home furnaces, refrigerators and several other popular appliances. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm vowed in December to continue issuing such rulemakings in 2024.
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“This is a huge win for consumers, especially lower income consumers, allowing them the continued freedom to choose the washing machines and dishwashers that have proven to meet their needs,” Sterling Burnett, the Heartland Institute’s director of the Robinson Center on Climate And Environmental Policy, told Fox News Digital on Tuesday.
“Water and energy use are just one factor when choosing an appliance to purchase, and the government should not be deciding for individuals that it’s the primary one,” he added. “This will keep less expensive models, effective models on the market allowing lower income Americans to purchase a new appliance when desired without necessarily having to make sacrifices elsewhere.”