Appeals court delivers setback to Biden administration’s efforts to regulate dishwashers

The Fifth Circuit federal appeals court invalidated Department of Energy (DOE) regulations aimed at dishwashers, challenging the Biden administration’s climate and energy efficiency initiatives. In a Monday ruling, the court overturned the DOE’s 2022 decision to revoke a Trump-era regulation on water use in dishwashers and clothes washers.

This decision is a win for Republican states and consumer advocacy groups opposing what they deem as excessively stringent standards for household 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.

According to the Fifth Circuit ruling, dishwashers with high efficiency, utilizing less water, often compel consumers to run multiple cycles or manually handwash dishes, resulting in increased overall energy and water consumption.

The origins of the case trace back to 2020 when the Trump administration adopted standards crafted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) two years earlier. CEI claims that these standards permitted the sale of quicker dishwashers and clothes washers that use slightly more water and energy.

Shortly after President Biden assumed office in 2021, the Department of Energy (DOE) moved to repeal these standards, finalizing the action in early 2022. Subsequently, a dozen Republican state attorneys general filed a legal challenge, seeking the court’s reinstatement of 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.”

The lawsuit contended that the Department of Energy’s (DOE) actions breached the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, deeming them “arbitrary and capricious.” In its Monday ruling, the Fifth Circuit seemed to align with the states, raising skepticism about the DOE’s authority to regulate dishwasher water use altogether.

“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 occurs amidst the Biden administration’s extensive initiatives to regulate appliances and reduce energy consumption in residential areas. Federal data reveals that the commercial and residential sector contributes to 30% of total end-use carbon emissions in the U.S., the largest share among sectors such as industry, transportation, and agriculture.

Environmentalists have consistently advocated for appliance and energy efficiency regulations due to the significant electricity and natural gas usage. Green energy groups are pushing for the electrification of homes and businesses to diminish reliance on natural gas, simultaneously promoting alternative sources like wind and solar to replace current fossil fuel-fired power.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has been actively pursuing regulations targeting various appliances, including gas stoves, water heaters, home furnaces, and refrigerators. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm pledged in December to continue issuing such regulations throughout 2024.

“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.”