Just as renewable energy can be a good thing if the market can provide it at an affordable rate, products designed for greater energy efficiency is a good thing. But not when the government gets in the way. Federal laws dictating how much energy home appliances are allowed to use have frequently harmed consumers, and the Waxman-Markey bill introduces a host of new ones.
Improved energy efficiency is a worthwhile goal, but not when Washington tries to mandate it with arbitrary requirements. Consumers who think the resultant energy-efficient appliances will save them money in the long run may be disappointed. These standards almost always raise the purchase price of appliances, in some cases to the point that the extra upfront costs are never recouped in the form of energy savings. For example, the Department of Energy conceded that its most recent air-conditioner standard would be a money loser for many consumers, but went ahead with it anyway.
Efficiency standards can also adversely affect product performance, features, and reliability. For example, Consumer Reports noted that several high-efficiency clothes washers meeting the latest federal standard “left our-stain soaked swatches nearly as dirty as they were before washing” and suggested that “for best results, you’ll have to spend $900 or more.”
Some standards also restrict consumer choice. For example, the 2007 energy bill effectively phases out the traditional incandescent light bulb in favor of more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Compared to the old-fashioned, but still-popular incandescent lights, compact fluorescent bulbs are more expensive, have a light quality some find inferior, do not fit into certain fixtures, and contain small amounts of mercury, which can be a health and safety concern if the bulbs break. Whether it’s a $1 light bulb or a $1000 washing machine, consumers are clearly better off when they have a choice, not when government steps in and decides what is best.
The Waxman-Markey proposal contains a host of new standards for everything from household lamps to portable electric spas. The new legislation makes it easier to place more requirements on appliances like air-conditioners that are already subject to stringent regulations. The overall effect would be higher costs, compromised quality, and restricted choice for homeowners with a negligible impact on the environment.
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