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Trump’s quest for more-powerful shower heads is over

The Biden administration has reversed a Trump rule that lifted limits on the flow rate of shower water

The federal government’s approach to regulating shower head efficiency has shifted three times since 2013. (iStock)
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Donald Trump’s pursuit of “perfect” hair may be lifelong, but the former president’s hope of achieving that goal by tinkering with the country’s shower head requirements has come to an end.

The Energy Department has reversed a Trump-era rule increasing how much water could be used in a shower by allowing multiple nozzles to carry equal amounts of water at once.

In closing the loophole Tuesday, Biden officials restored a 2013 standard that most shower heads on the market were already meeting — or exceeding.

Manufacturers did not demand the rollback. Instead, the call for more powerful showers came from Trump himself, who complained that the conservation standards led to low water pressure and a dissatisfying shower experience.

“So shower heads — you take a shower, the water doesn’t come out,” Trump said at a White House event last year. “You want to wash your hands, the water doesn’t come out. So what do you do? You just stand there longer or you take a shower longer? Because my hair — I don’t know about you, but it has to be perfect. Perfect.”

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Since 1994, federal law has capped flow from a shower head to 2.5 gallons of water per minute. After manufacturers started producing more luxurious shower fixtures with more than one nozzle, the Obama administration amended the rule so that the same limit applied to the entire fixture.

In its quest for a stronger flow, the Trump administration finalized a rule last December that reinterpreted what a shower fixture was, applying the federal limit to each individual nozzle. This meant that a shower head with three nozzles could use 7.5 gallons of water per minute. The regulation did not put a limit on the total amount.

President Trump spoke to reporters on July 16, 2020, about cutting back efficiency standards on home goods like shower heads, dishwashers and lightbulbs. (Video: The Washington Post)

Reversing this rule is unlikely to affect the shower head market, and consumers might not notice a change. Few manufacturers offer fixtures that fall under the Trump-era definition, which was signed in that administration’s last weeks in office, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, an energy conservation advocacy group.

“This was a silly loophole from the beginning, and the department was right to fix it,” said Andrew deLaski, the group’s executive director. “The good news is there was no clamoring for products that took advantage of this, and we can put this whole episode in the past.”

Trump’s shower head rule was part of a broader effort within the administration to relax energy efficiency standards and regulations for an array of household appliances, including dishwashers, washing machines and clothes dryers.

Although few Americans pay attention to these rules, environmentalists say they help combat climate change by lowering the use of energy derived from fossil fuels. Limits on water flow rates also have helped Western states cope with an extreme drought, which has left some reservoirs at or near historic lows.

Industry did push for some of the Trump rollback of efficiency rules, such as one finalized late last year that allowed manufacturers to continue selling less-efficient furnaces and water heaters. Natural gas suppliers argued that the rule would give consumers more choices, but environmentalists warned that it would lock in planet-warming pollution generated by home heating equipment.

In other cases, conservative groups made an ideological argument, suggesting that less regulation and unlimited consumer offerings served the public interest. The Competitive Enterprise Institute petitioned the Energy Department to create a new class of dishwasher that would complete a cycle in less than an hour, allowing these appliances to use more water and electricity. The group criticized the Biden administration’s move to reverse the Trump-era shower head rule.

“Consumers should be able to decide for themselves what kind of showers they buy and use, and do so free from regulatory constraints,” CEI senior fellow Ben Lieberman said in a statement after the Energy Department finalized the new rule. “People don’t need the government to protect them from too much water in the shower; they can simply turn the knob down.”

Although Trump focused most of his griping about bathroom fixtures on shower heads, he also complained about modern toilets and energy-saving lightbulbs. “People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once,” he said just a couple of weeks before the 2020 election to a receptive crowd in Carson City, Nev. He also singled out the LED lightbulb, which he said, “Costs you five times as much, and it makes you look orange.”

The Trump administration never did propose a new toilet standard. But in late 2019, it finalized a rule that delayed the country’s transition to more-efficient compact fluorescent and LED bulbs. Consumer groups estimate the delay would increase energy costs by $14 billion a year and generate 38 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. That regulation is still in effect.

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