Lawsuit: Biden Administration Rules That Make Dishwashers, Laundry Machines Worse Also Illegal

The plaintiffs argue that the Department of Energy has no legal authority to impose its own water use limits on energy-consuming home appliances.


The federal regulations that make dishwashers and washing machines worse are also illegal. So claim consumers from Texas and Louisiana in a new lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

While DOE has the authority to regulate the energy used by these appliances, the lawsuit argues, Congress never gave it the power to regulate the devices' water usage. Therefore, recent rules imposing limits on their water use are illegal.

"The Department of Energy has the ability to write rules for itself that are supposed to be based on legislative text," says Dan Greenberg, general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which is representing the consumers in their lawsuit. "The difficulty is the rules that it's created seem to rely on authority that's not in the statutory text that Congress has passed."

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Under President Joe Biden, the DOE has been an aggressive regulator of home appliances. It has scrapped numerous Trump-era rules liberalizing efficiency conversation standards for showerheads and dishwashers, and it has attempted to impose stricter regulations on an even wider range of products.

Manufacturers have objected to the costs of these new rules. So have many consumers, who don't like seeing their choices limited to lower-quality products.

Stricter energy efficiency standards are also often counterproductive. Because the machines' performance has decreased, more people are handwashing their dishes—a process that uses much more water.

The DOE's regulatory onslaught has run into other legal problems. Back in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked the department's repeal of the Trump administration's looser energy efficiency standards for dishwashers.

The court ruled that the DOE hadn't properly considered the ways that energy efficiency standards lead consumers to use more energy and water. It also said that the department hadn't properly considered regulatory changes short of repeal.

Of most relevance for this latest lawsuit, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the energy regulations passed by Congress over the years did not give the DOE the power to regulate the water consumption of energy-using appliances such as dishwashers and laundry machines beyond the explicit limits set in statutes.

The DOE could regulate the water use of non-energy-using plumbing fixtures, such as showerheads, and it could regulate the energy use of dishwashers and laundry machines, but it could not regulate the water use of the latter machines.

Nevertheless, in February 2024, DOE went ahead and issued new water limits for dishwashers and residential laundry machines.

"Instead of one cycle, you have to do two or three cycles. What you save in water bills you'll have to pay just as much or more in the cost of increased electricity but also time and increased physical labor," says Greenberg. "I think these rules are a mindset of certain regulators in Washington who don't understand how trade-offs work."