The Low-Hanging Fruit of Climate Change – Water and Energy Efficiency Standards

Over the past four years, we have been faced with several thought provoking questions – What is a showerhead?  How many times do you have to run a dishwasher to get clean dishes?  What type of lightbulb best illuminates a President?[1]  The Trump Administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) attempted to answer these questions by taking a new look at established energy and water efficiency standards resulting in the hydra-like showerhead and water jets from shower walls, a rollback of light bulb standards and a complete change in the process of how efficiency is determined.  On his first day in office, President Biden announced that his administration will launch a federal review of these Trump-era water and energy efficiency standards.  (See  Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis).   Importantly, energy efficiency standards provide low-hanging fruit toward President Biden’s Climate Change goals of achieving a carbon-pollution free electricity sector by 2035 and a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050. 

Some history first.  The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA) required DOE to establish energy conservation standards for appliances that are both “technologically feasible” and “economically justified” and covered twenty different categories of consumer products.  In 1987, Congress amended the EPCA to require DOE review its regulations every six years to determine whether efficiency standards need to be further increased to more stringent standards – backsliding was not allowed.  The Trump Administration worked to get around the antibacksliding provisions by redefining or creating new product categories and changing the process by which standards are evaluated.  Beyond developing the new standards, the DOE has also failed to review or update over two dozen appliance standards over the past four years creating a backlog that will be resolved over the next few years.[2]

On February 19, 2021, DOE  notified the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that is would begin the process of reviewing thirteen regulations regarding energy and water efficiency standards. (See Memorandum, Review of Actions of Prior Administration, Kelly Speakes-Backman, Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at  195778 Letterhead 1 ( It is anticipated that DOE will seek to undo these regulations and, in any event, a heightened focus on efficiency standards is expected.  These regulations (most of which are also subject to ongoing litigation by states, environmental and consumer groups)  include the following:

  • Process Rule. The Trump DOE established a new “baseline” in order to create a new standard based on anticipated energy savings, requiring a ten percent improvement in efficiency over thirty years, a very difficult standard to meet. The rule also granted an automatic waiver approvals to manufacturers if not granted by DOE within 45 business days.
  • Dishwasher, Clothes Washer and Dryer Standards. The Trump standards created new product classes for both dishwashers and clothes washers with shorter wash times and thus not required to meet existing efficiency standards. Similarly, a new class of quick cycle dryers were also exempted from meeting existing efficiency standards.
  • Light Bulb Standards. A Trump-era rule eliminated efficiency standards for approximately fifty percent of the light bulbs on the market and allowed the continued use of less efficient bulbs.
  • Multi-Nozzle Showerheads.The Trump Administration showerhead rule allows for each nozzle in a showerhead fixture to count as individual showerhead. As a result, each nozzle (as compared to the entire showerhead) is subject to the 2.5 gallons-per minute maximum flow rate.[3], (Prior to this revised regulation, the 2.5 gallons per minute standard applied to the entire fixture, regardless of the number of nozzles on the fixture, with the total usage calculated cumulatively.) Further, the Trump Administration deemed shower nozzles extending from walls below head height to be “body sprays,” not showerheads, and thus not subject to any standard.
  • Test Procedure Requirements. The Trump administration’s rule allows companies to develop their own methods for testing energy efficiency of their products.
  • Small Electric Motors. The Trump Administration made no effort to  update the standard for small electric motors that are used for such purposes as running pumps, fans, blowers, farm machinery and residential and commercial equipment.

DOE will have its hand full with addressing the Trump-era standards and catching up on delayed reviews of existing standards as energy efficiency is considered to be a significant arrow in the quiver to fight climate change.  DOE is likely to face similar litigation and administrative hurdles that the Trump Administration faced in its attempt to reverse the Obama energy and water efficiency standards.  Regardless, the eventual outcome will be increased efficiency requirements for a multitude of products.




[1] Many commentators have reflected that we have come a long way from the 1996 Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Newman were forced to explore the black market when their apartment complex installed low flow showerheads.   In the years since, manufacturers tout the performance and effectiveness of current products.

[2] As of March 2021, DOE had missed 28 legal deadline  for considering new standards. See Missed_deadlines_as_of_March_2021.pdf (

[3] This 2.5 gallons per minute maximum flow rate for showerheads was set by the George H.W. Bush Administration in 1992.  For a depiction of the multi-nozzle showerhead, see Figure 1 in the proposed regulation.

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