A Domestic Attack on Consumer Choice – DOE’s Attempt to Take Americans’ Gas Stoves
The Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing regulations to establish energy performance standards for cooking appliances that would remove 50-96 percent of natural gas stoves from the market, and further the “electrify everything” crowd’s goal to restrict and eliminate the use of natural gas in buildings. The initiative directly compromises U.S. consumers’ freedom of choice, and despite being touted as “not a natural gas ban,” the scale at which it limits consumers’ options proves the contrary.
House Republicans invited industry representatives and experts, including the American Gas Association (AGA) and Competitive Enterprise Institute, to a hearing in May focused on the proposal. According to the majority’s witnesses, the DOE is attempting to push forward regulations through the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) that do not fall within its jurisdiction. Ultimately, those witnesses attest that the proposal would likely have limited economic benefits and negative impacts on American energy security.
Policymakers at DOE fail to realize the efforts that U.S. natural gas producers are putting into mitigating emissions and increasing energy efficiency. According to Matthew Agen, Chief Regulatory Counsel for the American Gas Association, AGA affiliate members spend around 4.3 million dollars a day on energy efficiency programs, resulting in a 50 percent decline in residential natural gas use per customer since 1970.
Compromising Consumer Choice
A key issue with the DOE’s proposal is that it takes away consumer choice by largely restricting their options for gas cooking appliances. This is a clear violation of energy efficiency standards set by the Energy Policy & Conservation Act (EPCA), which does not take an “efficiency at all cost” approach to appliance regulation according to Ben Lieberman, Senior Fellow, at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Lieberman testified that EPCA “can’t compromise product, quality, choice, and features,” of consumer products. For context, EPCA is the same law that the Ninth Circuit found to pre-empt Berkeley’s gas ban only last month.
Despite claims by the DOE that “nearly half of the total gas-cooking top market … would not be impacted by the proposed standard”, a test by the department itself proves otherwise. According to the analysis conducted with 21 stovetop units currently on the market, only one unit complied with the proposed regulations. In recognition of this, Jill Notini, Vice President of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, argues that this is indicative of the rule nullifying “96 percent of the gas stove market.” Only after the proposed rule’s 96 percent elimination rate sparked a backlash from policymakers did the DOE revise its estimate to 50 percent in a comment to the Wall Street Journal.
Majority witnesses specify why significantly eliminating consumers’ choice of appliances, essentially mandating one product without considering factors such as affordability and the notion of American energy security, is unjustifiable. The DOE seemingly ignored both of these variables and the negative effects on U.S. consumers when proposing their rule.
Benefits Are Virtually Non-existent And Cost Intensive
According to the DOE’s own analysis, the proposed rule would save customers a scant $1.51 per year, accounting for a mere $21.89 over a product’s 14.5-year lifespan says the American Gas Association (AGA). This illustrates that while the proposed regulations cause consumer options to become increasingly limited, the DOE is attempting to adopt them on a basis that doesn’t provide American households with substantial benefits.
Additionally, as demonstrated by the DOE’s very own analysis, most stoves on the market today will not meet the agency’s proposed regulations. Households across the country will likely have to pay for more expensive electric alternative or specific natural gas cooktop options to become compliant with the new rules. This poses an issue as the cost to transition will require upfront investments from property owners to be compliant, and households will be subject to higher utility prices. On average, natural gas is two to three times cheaper than electricity.
The potential for higher costs exasperates an already ongoing phenomenon where U.S. energy-insecure households are billed more for energy than other households, with the majority of them being in black and brown communities. In that regard, the DOE’s proposed regulation is just another initiative that will disproportionately affect households of color.
Natural gas is amongst the most dependable and affordable fuel sources for residents, and the industry continues to work towards mitigating emissions, including by investing $4.3 million a day on energy efficiency programs to support consumer energy reduction and promoted utility savings. If the Biden administration and the DOE continue to aggressively work towards electrifying the nation, they will eliminate a large swatch of residents’ preferred energy options, and leave them far worse off for a meager $1.50 savings per year.