When is a washing machine not a washing machine? When Donald Trump says so. The Trump administration has just created an entirely new class of appliances—“short-cycle” clothes washers and dryers—for the sole purpose of undercutting water and energy efficiency standards.
Washing machines use 70 percent less energy than they did in 1990 and half the water they used in 2000. Those numbers provide irrefutable evidence that efficiency standards work. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that these improvements have come at any cost of effectiveness. Clothes end up clean and dry.
But, as part of its extremist anti-regulatory philosophy, the Trump administration decided to fix what wasn’t broken. Under the newly finalized rule, top-loading washing machines with normal cycle times of less than 30 minutes, front-loading washing machines with normal cycles less than 45 minutes, and dryers with normal cycles less than 30 minutes belong to a new class of appliances called “short-cycle” machines. And for some reason, efficiency standards simply don’t apply to them.
The rule change is not only unnecessary and unwise, it isn’t even clear who supports it. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), the main industry group representing washer and dryer makers, strongly opposed the revision. According to U.S. Department of Energy documents, AHAM complained that “consumers are not looking for products with shorter cycles and that consumers already have the option to use shorter cycles when needed as most washers and dryers offer quick cycles.” (The stunt is similar to one the Trump administration pulled with dishwashers in October.)
On the same day it upended washer and dryer efficiency standards, the administration finalized an illogical new definition of “showerhead.” Historically, multi-nozzle showerheads attached to the same water supply were defined as a single showerhead and subject to an aggregate limit of 2.5 gallons of water flow per minute. Under the new rule, each nozzle counts as its own device, allowing manufacturers to pack multiple nozzles into the same showerhead, which can essentially use an unlimited amount of water.
Unlike the change to washing machine definitions, the provenance of the showerhead rule is fairly clear. Our outgoing president has repeatedly complained, contrary to evidence, that modern showerheads aren’t adequate to rinse the presidential mane. “You turn on the shower, if you're like me, you can't wash your beautiful hair properly,” Trump said in August. This is a change to federal law to satisfy the whims of one eccentric man.
Congratulations, Mr. President. Soon, you can use as much water and energy as you like to clean your hair and underpants. Fortunately, you’ll be doing it somewhere other than the White House.