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Secretary Perry Can Make Dishwashing Great Again

Once upon a time, dishwashing machines were great. With plentiful soap and water, your dishes were sparkling clean and bathed in fresh aroma.

But over the last 40 years, big government ruined the great American dishwasher. Awful energy efficiency regulations made it slow and dirty. Thankfully, a provision in the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act allows the Energy Secretary to exempt products from standards that hurt consumer satisfaction.

FreedomWorks joins the Competitive Enterprise Institute in asking Secretary Rick Perry to make dishwashing great again.

Consumers are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with today’s dishwashers compared to previous years. Consumer Reports shows the typical dishwasher cycle now lasts between two and three hours, compared to a single hour in 1978. And what’s to blame? Both Consumer Reports and the industry fault the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) mandatory efficiency standards for appliances.

First, President Gerald Ford waged war on our dishwashers with minimum efficiency standards in response to the oil crisis of his time. He wanted the typical consumer to be less dependent on oil in case the US faced pressure from monopolistic markets controlled by foreign powers. Then, President Jimmy Carter hiked these standards when he signed legislation creating the Department of Energy in 1978.

President Ronald Reagan valiantly stalled Carter’s efficiency mandates through the 1980s, but environmentalist crusades at the state-level forced appliance manufacturers to ask for federal standards. Reagan reluctantly signed the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act in 1987 to preempt liberals from forcing manufacturers to produce fifty different appliance models to comply with the various laws in each state. Since then, Congress and US presidents have hiked efficiency standards on a bipartisan basis, including President George Bush, President George W. Bush, and most recently President Obama.

Here are the results, visualized below. As you can see, the average wash cycle lengthens each time DOE adds a new standard. Rather than boosting efficiency, companies use less power over longer times to meet regulations. This is like driving slowly to save gas money. It wastes time.

Justifications for energy efficiency standards are bad. Politicians and regulators think Americans overwhelmingly value future cost-savings from lessened energy consumption. But in reality, Americans also value time, and a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. Energy efficiency standards hike prices on dishwashers at an immediate expense to any consumer shopping for one. Obama’s 2015 standards added $99 to the price of each new dishwasher, costing the economy $7.1 billion.

And poor Americans are hurt the most by upfront price hikes. Americans with lower incomes are more likely to prefer immediate value rather than future savings. Estimates performed by the DOE completely ignored this in their math, concluding that homes with over $160,000 in annual income mirror the typical American family.

Plus, draconian requirements for water and energy efficiency reduce customer satisfaction. When President Obama tightened per-cycle water usage restrictions from 5 gallons to 3.1 gallons, consumers were left with dirty dishes. Handwashing or multiple cycles might be required to get what consumers really want: clean dishes, not government mandates. Both solutions to ineffective dishwashers would undermine DOE estimates on energy savings.

Plus, mandates often are not needed to improve efficiency. Companies have every incentive to earn market share by improving products. For example, refrigerator efficiency improved drastically before DOE regulated them. Standards are costly and unnecessary. But sadly, Congressional action is required to eliminate them completely.

Thankfully, the American dishwashing machine can be saved through a nifty exemption included in the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987. The law allows the Energy Secretary to create a “new classification” of consumer products with different standards based on performance features. Congress included this authority in case efficiency standards forced companies to reengineer products in a way that might interfere with other performance characteristics. In this case, wash cycle duration is a dishwasher performance feature that efficiency regulations absolutely wrecked.

Secretary Perry should use his authority to Make Dishwashing Great Again for all Americans. Perry can lower energy efficiency requirements under a product classification based on a one hour wash cycle. This way, fast washers that meet consumer needs can compete with overly regulated ones. Market forces will determine the winners.

FreedomWorks supports fast and clean dishwashing free from government interference. We urge Secretary Perry to kick government out of your kitchen.