AHAM leads push for major federal reform
The process the federal government uses to set appliance efficiency standards is long overdue for an update. Under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which was passed in the 1970s, the Department of Energy is required to review efficiency standards for home appliances every six years. The agency isn’t required to tighten the standards following the reviews, but they have chosen to do so in nearly every case.
AHAM has generally been a supporter of EPCA and the federal efficiency standards program. More stringent efficiency standards, combined with innovations by manufacturers, have brought most of the appliances covered under EPCA to or near peak efficiency. But we appear to be nearing a tipping point at which tighter standards will no longer lead to meaningful efficiency gains. The efficiency gains have become smaller with each recent update, and the tighter standards could soon put product performance at risk as manufacturers are required to make design changes to accommodate unrealistically stringent standards. That means higher costs for manufacturers and consumers. It likely will also require manufacturers to devote more resources to meeting the new standards, and fewer to developing innovations that could lead to even greater efficiency gains and new levels of convenience for consumers.
Higher costs, lower-performing products and fewer resources devoted to innovations are unacceptable outcomes for manufacturers and consumers. That’s why securing passage of EPCA reform is one of AHAM’s top legislative priorities.
I recently testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power to educate representatives on the need for reform and encourage them to pass legislation reforming EPCA. I emphasized that more stringent federal efficiency standards could raise consumer and manufacturer costs to unacceptably high levels. EPCA’s goals have been achieved for many of the products covered by the law, and appliance manufacturers and consumers need reforms that recognize the dramatic efficiency gains appliances have already made. The current process of developing new federal efficiency standards no longer makes sense.
We’ve already gotten a glimpse of what the future for appliances might hold without EPCA reforms. You may remember what happened last summer after AHAM consumer testing of the DOE’s proposed dishwasher efficiency regulations, which limited dishwashers to 3.1 gallons of water per cycle. It was too little water, the dishes didn’t get clean and the energy savings were minimal.
There’s little market for dishwashers that need two cycles to clean dishes, or dryers that take more time to dry clothes. Both examples run contrary to the goal of federal efficiency standards. And yet, that’s what could result without significant EPCA reforms that eliminate the automatic tightening of efficiency standards. The impact has the potential to be felt across the full range of products covered under EPCA—including refrigerators, freezers, room air conditioners, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers, kitchen ranges and ovens, dehumidifiers, microwave ovens, portable air conditioners and wine chillers—all AHAM products as well as many other products covered by the law.
AHAM is asking Congress to end its pattern of serial rulemakings and make a number of other key reforms to EPCA, including:
- The inclusion of a list of covered products exempt from further rulemaking
- Establishing a minimum time that must elapse between completion of a test procedure and proposal of a related efficiency standard
- Requiring DOE to consider the cumulative impact of regulations
- Transparency around government assumptions and models on which standards are based
- Mandatory procedures for public input prior to proposals being issued
These changes can only happen through congressional action. Legislation to reform EPCA could be introduced soon in the House, and AHAM is working with its members and partners from other industries affected by EPCA to engage members of Congress and urge them to support EPCA reforms.