with Paulina Firozi


The Trump administration just finished a major revision of the rules for setting energy efficiency standards for dishwashers and other appliances — just the sort of common household items President Trump regularly tells campaign crowds no longer work properly.

The Department of Energy this week put the final touches on new procedures for energy-savings standards for dozens of machines used daily in homes and businesses, including residential appliances like clothes dryers and microwave ovens, commercial equipment like walk-in refrigerators and industrial instruments like distribution transformers on the electric grid.

While the Energy Department says the move will save money for consumers and manufacturers, advocates for making appliances more efficient counter that the new rules will only encourage lawsuits from manufacturers upset with toughened standards and make it harder for regulators to cut the climate-warming impact of home appliances.

“It seems to be that they’re issuing this rule to handcuff a future administration,” said Andrew deLaski, who runs the energy-efficiency advocacy group Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

With the new rules governing how energy-savings standards are written, Trump’s deputies appear to be addressing one of the president’s more peculiar obsessions — his view that modern appliances just don’t work as well as they used to.

Newfangled lightbulbs, for example, give him an ugly orange hue. (“The light’s no good. I always look orange.”) Today's dishwashers won’t clean plates. (“It’s worthless! They give you so little water.”)

Or as Trump complained to a campaign crowd last month in Battle Creek, Mich., “women tell me” they now have to run their dishwashers many times.

President Trump spoke about water regulations during a Battle Creek, Mich., rally on Dec. 18. (The Washington Post)

Still, the decision to add more steps to the standards-writing process is a peculiar one for an administration that has sought to cut red tape elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy.  

Under the new regulation, the department will be required to publish the procedures for testing an appliance 180 days before setting the actual standard for manufacturers. 

That binding requirement, said deLaski, the energy-efficiency advocate, “will make it harder and more time-consuming to update the standards.” In the past, the Energy Department could tweak the procedures for testing the energy efficiency of machines while working to set the actual minimum efficiency requirements for them.

The department also said it only will place standards on manufacturers if the energy savings meet a certain threshold — arguing that a big, 40 percent chunk of the standards issued over the past three decades account for only a small, 4 percent piece of total energy savings.

Before, whether a standard made significant enough energy savings to be legally justified "was in the eye of the beholder," said Francis Dietz, a spokesman for the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, a trade association for manufacturers. The new rule is "something we like because it's not subjective," he added.

Appliance makers will also get a greater say in how their products are tested. “We’re glad to see this because it will increase transparency and certainty,” said Jennifer Cleary, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, which represents household appliance makers in Washington.

After three years in office, the Trump administration has shown little enthusiasm for issuing new energy standards — and has even missed legal deadlines to review existing ones for 21 products, including water heaters and room air conditioners.

In the case of lightbulbs, the Energy Department rolled back last year a standard issued under President Barack Obama meant to phase out old-fashioned, incandescent ones for more energy-efficient ones.  

Ramping up the energy efficiency of everyday products is often seen as an unsung solution for not only driving down greenhouse gases, but also for saving Americans money in their monthly bills. Undoing the Obama-era lightbulb standard alone, for example, will mean $14 billion a year more in energy costs for Americans, according to a study by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. 

Indeed, according to the Energy Department's own Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, more than two-thirds of the energy produced in the United States is actually wasted, much of it the form of warm exhaust from automobiles and furnaces.


— Senate approves USMCA trade deal: The Senate voted 89 to 10 to overwhelmingly approve the sweeping economic agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada. The deal has the backing of the AFL-CIO as well as some other big labor unions, but was opposed by major green groups, The Post’s Erica Werner and Rachel Siegel report.

  • Schumer and other Democrats cast "no" vote over climate: The New York senator and Senate minority leader voted against the deal because it includes no provisions to “address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet.” Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined him in voting against it.
  • USMCA makes its way to the campaign trail: During this week’s Democratic debate in Iowa, Sanders emphasized that the new North America trade agreement "does not even have the phrase ‘climate change’ in it,” he said. “I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very, very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions in the world,” he added.




— “Yeah, we knew. Everybody knew. And somehow we all ignored it”: That’s what Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told Time Magazine about the company’s past awareness of climate change.The story takes a look at how the company will have to grapple with navigating a long-term shift away from fossil fuels when its profits are largely made by “serving the world’s enormous appetite for oil.”

  • Climate activists infuriated: For them, it's another sign that oil companies understood the risks their products posed to the planet, but did little to mitigate the damage. "This is beyond maddening," 350.org founder Bill McKibben wrote on Twitter. "Not everyone knew, because the oil industry worked for 3 decades to cover it up. Your greed wasted our best chance at survival."

— Microsoft says it will start removing its carbon emissions from the air: The software giant announced an initiative to remove more carbon than it emits by the year 2030 and remove all the emissions it has generated since its 1975 founding by 2050. “Microsoft’s initiative goes a few steps beyond what crosstown rival Amazon announced in September. The e-commerce giant, which competes with Microsoft in the booming business of cloud computing, said at the time it would implement strategies to be at net zero emissions — removing as much carbon as it produces — throughout its business by 2040,” The Post’s Jay Greene reports. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) 

  • The details: “To achieve its goal, Microsoft plans for its entire fleet of vehicles to run on electric power by 2030. It will adopt so-called negative emission technologies including soil carbon sequestration and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage to remove emissions it has created. The company also committed to investing $1 billion over the next four years in new technologies to help address the climate change crisis.” Greene adds the company has not committed to an independent audit of progress toward these goals.

— Another climate plan from Bloomberg: Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg released his latest climate-related proposal, this time to double the federal government’s fire budget to $10 billion each year to increase funds for forest restoration, fire prevention and firefighting, Reuters reports. “Better forest management will help to reduce the damage from wildfires,” Bloomberg said. “But we also need urgent, bold action to address climate change and the hotter, drier conditions that are making fires worse — which the president has refused to do.”

— Trump declares major disaster in Puerto Rico after earthquakes: The president made the declaration and “ordered Federal assistance to supplement Commonwealth and local recovery efforts," the White House said in a statement. “The announcement of the disaster declaration comes on the same day the Department of Housing and Urban Development formally announced a grant agreement with Puerto Rico, releasing another $8.2 billion in aid,” NPR reports. “Those funds were made available to help with recovery from the 2017 hurricanes Maria and Irma, a gesture that is seen as extremely overdue by many on the ravaged island, as well as Democratic lawmakers in Congress.”  

  • Meanwhile, House set to pass $3.4 billion disaster relief package: Democrats released a summary of the bill that lawmakers are set to pass by the end of the month to help with Puerto Rico’s latest disaster, Politico reports. The measure will “include $100 million for education, $1.25 billion for highways and $2 billion in community development money the Department of Housing and Urban Development distributes through grants to aid recovery, the aide said. The additional assistance comes after POLITICO reported on Wednesday that the Trump administration plans to release more than $8 billion in disaster aid for Puerto Rico amid criticism from lawmakers.” 

— Clean energy investment reaches record: A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found investment in clean energy hit a record $55.5 billion in 2019, fueled by the lower cost of renewable energy, Reuters reports. There has been a 28 percent increase in investment from the year before, even as the Trump administration rolls back policies to support such investment. “Indeed, President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of federal support for Obama-era climate goals indirectly helped the industry here by inspiring a backlash among U.S. cities, states and corporations, which have grown more ambitious about installing cleaner forms of energy,” per the report. 


Coming Up

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies holds a hearing on Feb. 6. 


— Heavy rains drench some parts of Australia’s bush fire zones: “The reaction from firefighters and meteorologists alike is one of relief and glee at finally seeing meaningful rains, despite the fact the wet weather won’t be sufficient to end the drought, which in some areas has lasted for more than three years, or put an end to the bush fire crisis,” The Post’s Andrew Freedman writes.