- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

Even though hes been out of office for almost four months, the after-effects of Bill Clintons presidency linger like background radiation. One such legacy of the era of Clinton are Department of Energy rules affecting the efficiency standards of washing machines. The Bush administration yesterday approved new standards that require the sale of much more efficient but also much more expensive washing machines.
"We reviewed the regulations as directed by the White House and we found that the benefits to consumers, to the environment and to the energy efficiency are pretty clear-cut," said Department of Energy spokesman Joe Davis.
The new rules mean new washing machines manufactured starting with the 2007 model year will have to be 35 percent more efficient in terms of water usage than existing models. These high efficiency machines would use significantly less water (and hence, electricity to heat the water) than current machines. According to DOE, the savings would amount to $15.3 billion over the period 2004 to 2030. To consumers, they mean an extra $240 for a new washing machine.
No one can argue with these benefits, and high efficiency washers are already on the market. However, there is a cost. The high efficiency machines are also highly expensive with current models retailing for $700 to $1,000 or more per machine. This is roughly two to three times as expensive as the lower-end machines currently on the market, the kinds of machines that most people can afford. The savings over time are certainly to be factored into the equation, and may compensate somewhat for the initial outlay. But the problem remains: If people cannot afford to buy these things in the first place, what will it matter how energy-efficient they happen to be? Indeed, if people are effectively priced out of the market, they may simply cling to their older (and less efficient washers) much longer than they otherwise would. This dynamic is clearly evident in the automobile marketplace. Late model cars are very clean in terms of their emissions output, but they are also quite expensive. As a result, more and more people are driving their older cars for greater periods of time. In fact, the American Automobile Association notes that the average age of the typical car on U.S. roads is about 8 years a record.
Certainly, new and more energy efficient appliances are a desirable goal, but its better to let the market, not government, drive improvements. The Bush DOE erred in approving the Clinton-era DOEs proposed rules for high-efficiency washing machines. It should have let consumers decide whats in their best interests when the time comes to empty the hamper.

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