A Guideline That Should be Trashed

The federal government, which has been accused – rightly or wrongly – of overzealous, ill-conceived attempts at overregulation, needs to take a step back and rethink a proposed new guideline that could deal an unwarranted, and crippling, blow to companies serving the kitchen and bath trade.

The proposed new guideline, set for rollout by the Dept. of Energy, is based on the DOE’s belief that the Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1975 gives the agency the authority to redefine the term “showerhead” and, in so doing, limit the output of all spray devices in a shower to a combined 2.5 gallons per minute.

In other words, if the proposed new guideline becomes a binding regulatory requirement, the DOE – in a misguided effort to enforce the notion of water conservation – would mandate a radical change in the way bath and shower configurations are designed in America. The number of fixtures in a shower or bathtub area would be limited to one. Multi-function showers would be no longer be permitted. Configurations commonly found in most bathtub settings – such as a tub spout, hand shower and showerhead – would be in violation of federal law, since the combined water usage in those applications would exceed the 2.5 gpm maximum.

Stated yet another way, if the proposed DOE guideline becomes law, kitchen/bath designers, decorative plumbing showrooms and others in the plumbing products supply chain could literally take a bath, while others – including the elderly and disabled – could find everyday bathing exceedingly difficult.

Clearly, this is a potential problem on many fronts. Just as clearly, it’s a problem that should be avoided.

The status of the DOE’s proposed showerhead redefinition was uncertain as of press time for this issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News. Infinitely more certain is the fact that the proposed new guideline has sparked serious concern among industry-related trade associations, several of whom have lobbied the DOE to halt implementation.

There’s good reason for their concern. Businesses and livelihoods could be at stake. So could the best interests of not only the kitchen and bath trade, but the American public.

DOE, clearly, has incorrectly applied the definition of a “shower valve” to its proposed new definition of “showerhead,” despite the fact that voluntary plumbing standard-setting organizations clearly distinguish between the two types of fittings.

Moreover, by deciding unilaterally to change the definition of showerhead, the DOE has exceeded not only its own authority but the regulatory intent of the very law it is attempting to enforce. If it was the legislative intent of Congress to authorize DOE to dictate the number of shower fixtures Americans can have in their homes, the legislation no doubt would have done so.

Congress didn’t dictate that then. Neither should the DOE now.

It seems obvious that the DOE has failed to examine the unintended consequences of its proposed new guideline. The agency, it also seems, has likely violated administrative procedures that require it to consult with voluntary, private-sector standard-setting bodies when its actions are in the public interest. DOE, moreover, has also likely violated rule making procedures under which the agency must provide appropriate notice and opportunities for those who’ll be most affected by its actions to comment.

It needs to do that now. Before it makes a bureaucratic blunder it, and others, will likely regret.

Water conservation, without question, is a goal the entire nation should support. In contrast, poorly thought-out mandates by government agencies out of touch with reality are something to be opposed.