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NRDC Sues Energy Dept. For Circumventing Dishwasher Efficiency Standards

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) sued the U.S. Department of Energy last month for circumventing longtime energy and water efficiency standards for dishwashers by needlessly creating a new category exempt from any energy-saving requirements, potentially leading to higher household utility bills and more pollution.

The loophole exempts new dishwashers from efficiency standards if they are capable of washing and drying dishes in one hour or less on the “normal” cycle, a move opposed by environmental groups and appliance manufacturers alike because most of today’s dishwashers already offer quick cycles, including some that take less than an hour. More than 8 million dishwashers are purchased in the United States every year so the number of models lacking any standards could be substantial.

“This was a senseless Trump administration action that hurts consumers and all who’ve benefitted from the significant efficiency gains in dishwashers over more than 30 years. It also sets an appalling precedent that the agency could abuse by picking any trivial feature of an appliance and exempting it from all efficiency standards,” said NRDC energy efficiency advocate Joe Vukovich.

NRDC and Earthjustice (representing Sierra Club, Consumer Federation of America, and the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants) asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the rule issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) in October. A coalition of states led by California was expected to make the same request separately.

In earlier official comments opposing DOE’s action, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) said weakening the standards from the current energy use requirements of 307 kilowatt-hours per year and 5 gallons of water per cycle (half the amount of water and energy that standard dishwashers consumed 20 years ago) would incur “additional costs for manufacturers and, ultimately, consumers.”

Meanwhile, according to an AHAM product survey, almost 87 percent of dishwasher models already include an optional cycle that can wash and dry a load of dishes in just over an hour.

The dishwasher rule is not the first time DOE has violated the law in neglecting or attempting to weaken efficiency standards. Earlier this month, DOE needlessly established new classes of household washers and dryers that are not to be subject to any water or energy efficiency standards and issued a new definition of showerheads to skirt their water and energy efficiency rules. Such exemptions especially harm low-income consumers and people of color who disproportionately bear the burden of higher energy bills and the extra power plant pollution necessary to run less efficient appliances and equipment.

Meanwhile, NRDC and others recently sued DOE because it has failed to review and update 25 current energy efficiency standards that would save households and businesses at least $22 billion annually on their utility bills. Lawsuits also have been filed over DOE’s rollbacks of light bulb standards, and changes to its efficiency standards process that will slow down—and create hurdles to—future standards. NRDC also won a lawsuit requiring DOE to finalize four standards issued under the Obama administration that the Trump administration illegally delayed. 

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