Big business and environmentalists don't agree on much. But they both cheered the Biden administration's late-July reversal of a short-lived Trump administration rule easing restrictions on the pleasing flow of multi-headed showers.
Beginning in the 1990s, showerheads sold in the U.S. could emit no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute. Former President Donald Trump was a frequent critic of this requirement as well as of an Obama-era regulatory change that required whole shower units, and not just individual showerheads, to comply with the limit. That effectively outlawed the multi-headed showers then on the market.
"I go into areas where they have tremendous water…and you have sinks where the water doesn't come out," Trump said at a 2015 campaign rally. "You have showers where I can't wash my hair properly. It's a disaster!" In December 2020, Trump's Department of Energy (DOE) undid the Obama administration's restrictions, letting multi-headed showers flow freely again.
A few short months later, the Biden administration kinked the hose. "As many parts of America experience historic droughts, this commonsense proposal means consumers can purchase showerheads that conserve water and save them money on their utility bills," a Department of Energy spokesperson told the Associated Press.
Contrary to the implication, Americans were also free to purchase water-conserving showerheads under the Trump rule. The Biden administration is giving them no other choice.
The changes that Trump made in 2020 were not without controversy. Environmental groups complained they would result in more water use, and showerhead manufacturers complained about competition from new companies that hadn't sunk money into compliance.
The Trump administration's proposal would "negate significant investment costs the industry has taken to comply with the existing DOE regulations and guidance" and create a "potential competitive disadvantage for U.S. manufacturers who have developed products to comply with the current requirements," the American Supply Association said in October 2020.
If multi-headed shower units are legalized, "some manufacturer out there will make them and will probably garner some market share," says the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Ben Lieberman. "From the perspective of manufacturers who are now making the compliant models, they see nothing to be gained by allowing the heavier-flow models onto the market."
When the Obama administration first proposed its more restrictive standards for showerheads in 2010, manufacturers got pretty steamed. "Leave my shower alone," one showerhead seller told The Wall Street Journal. "It was not the legislative intent of Congress to authorize DOE to regulate the bathing habits of Americans," said another. What a difference 10 years of regulation makes.