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issue: April 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
A Lack of Efficiency

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Editorial from Lisa Bonnema, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

Some U.S. states are taking it upon themselves to go above and beyond federal energy efficiency regulations for appliances, potentially resulting in new policies that will not only burden manufacturers and retailers, but limit consumer choice.

Lisa Bonnema, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

Leading the pack is California, which is currently trying to pass new regulations that would put stringent water-saving standards on residential clothes washers sold in the state—a first for the U.S.

The National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA), which has been in effect since 1987, pre-empts U.S. states from regulating the efficiency of appliances, leaving such legislation to the federal government. However, a provision does allow states to petition for an exemption from pre-emption if they feel they can prove to the DOE that they are in a state of energy crisis that requires them to go beyond the federal standards. Apparently, California feels it is in a position to do so.

The state took its first action last year when it regulated the water factor of commercial clothes washers, a segment of the appliance industry not covered under the NAECA. The new standards will go into effect in January 2005. California is now applying a similar regulation to residential clothes washers—regulations that are actually more stringent than those put on the state’s commercial washing machines.

While no one denies that California certainly has the right to address its very real water issues, the problem is that when it comes to clothes washers, the federal government has already addressed those issues. Joseph McGuire, president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, tells APPLIANCE that when industry, environmental groups, state officials, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) were negotiating for new federal efficiency standards for clothes washers 4 years ago, water factors were ruled out, largely at the instance of AHAM.

“At that time, we, the manufacturers, did not want the federal standards to have a water factor because doing so would gravitate the standards and the products toward technologies that were much more expensive and would reduce consumer choice,” Mr. McGuire explains. “Also, the national energy standards we’re talking about here—even without a water factor—are much different than the previous generation of energy standards in that they are be based on a modified energy factor, which takes into account water usage in the machine. They reduce water usage in clothes washers by half. The DOE agreed.”

In fact, the new 2004 federal standards alone will enable clothes washers to save more than 1,500 gal of water per household compared to the standards that were in effect in 2003, Mr. McGuire reports. Furthermore, the federal regulations scheduled to go into effect in 2007 will save more than 7,000 gal per year per household, he adds.

Even so, California is moving forward with its regulations, which call for residential washing machines to have a water factor of 8.5 by 2007 and 6.0 in 2010. Such changes will be a financial and production burden on manufacturers that are still producing non-complying models for other parts of the U.S. It will also negatively affect retailers, and ultimately, the consumer, who will be forced to buy more expensive front-loading washing machines.

“We think that what California has done is not going to accomplish anything except raise the cost for consumers and limit their choice,” Mr. McGuire tells APPLIANCE. “The effect on California’s retailers is that ironically, consumers in that state who want to keep their options open may go to stores out of the state to buy their products, so it’s really going hurt retailers in California.”

The next step is for California to go before the DOE to submit its petition, which is expected to take place some time this year. And while Mr. McGuire is confident that the DOE will reject the petition, the problems don’t stop with California. Over on the East Coast, Maryland is taking similar actions. In January, the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates overwhelmingly voted to override Governor Robert Elrich’s veto of a bill that would regulate the energy efficiency of several appliances on the state level. That bill included a water factor requirement for commercial washing machines, similar to the one implemented by California.

The bill also covers new regulations for gas-fired unit heaters, sparking the attention—and concern—of The Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA). The regulation calls for all gas-fired unit heaters to include an intermittent ignition device (as opposed to a pilot light) and either a power vent or automatic flue damper. Unit heaters are not covered under the NAECA.

In its February newsletter, GAMA said it has urged federal and state governments to deal with the issue of standards for unit heaters and other appliances on the federal level. “We will continue to oppose this individual state approach,” GAMA said. The association also said that Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Vermont are considering similar legislation this year.

Interestingly enough, this is all happening at a time when the U.S. Congress has yet to enact an Energy Bill, leading some to wonder if states are starting to feel the need to take matters into their own hands. Mr. McGuire of AHAM, however, doesn’t think that argument holds any weight, at least when it comes to California’s clothes washer regulations.

“You can criticize the federal government and the DOE for a lot of things, but not what they did for residential clothes washers,” Mr. McGuire says. “They put into effect the most energy-saving appliance standard in the history of the country for residential clothes washers.”

The main point, he adds, is that the California Energy Commission and several environmental and water groups signed off on the federal regulations, but are still moving ahead with their own initiatives. “As a state, California is taking on the added responsibility of applying and enforcing a standards program that it really doesn’t need to be involved in because there is a federal program. It’s just not wise public policy.”

There certainly seems to be a lack of efficiency here, but not on the behalf of the appliance industry, which has more than done its part in the energy department in recent years. If these state-lead initiatives continue, the U.S. could end up with 50 different sets of energy regulations—per appliance category. This obviously has the makings of a complete disaster for the U.S. appliance industry, its retailers, and, the consumer. State administrations need to back off and let their federal government do its job.


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