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Pa. House bill sets efficiency standards for new water fixtures, commercial appliances

  • Rachel McDevitt/StateImpact Pennsylvania
The state capitol as seen at night on Aug. 24, 2023.

 Rachel McDevitt / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The state capitol as seen at night on Aug. 24, 2023.

Appliances sold in Pennsylvania would need to meet stricter efficiency standards under a measure passed by the state House.

Environmentalists hailed the bill as a conservation effort that could help address climate change, while opponents argued it is an example of government overreach that will drive up costs.

The standards in House Bill 1615 would apply to new commercial dishwashers, fryers, and ovens sold in the state. It would also limit water use for faucets, shower heads and toilets. It doesn’t ban any fuel used to power those things.

The standards would kick in next year, if the Senate approves the measure and the governor signs it.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 102 to 99.

Nearly all Republicans voted no. Opponents said the government shouldn’t be in control of what kind of shower head someone can buy and that more efficient models of these items would cost more upfront.

Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) co-sponsored the bill and said he was surprised he was the only member of his party to vote for it.

Mehaffie said better efficiency is a win for businesses. As a business owner himself, he said he has bought cheaper, less efficient equipment and ultimately “lost” because of higher energy bills.

Mehaffie added that the measure is a result of compromise and is an example of how more bills should move in the legislature. The Pennsylvania Building Trades Council supports the bill and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association and Pennsylvania Food and Merchants Association are neutral.

Backers say the conservation measures could save Pennsylvanians $300 million on utility bills by 2030, save 10 billion gallons of water and cut annual carbon emissions equal to taking 85,000 cars off the road.

Co-sponsor Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-Delaware) said the step is one way to reduce climate-warming emissions.

“You want to talk about the cost on consumers? Failing to address climate change costs our consumers money every single day,” O’Mara said.

O’Mara pointed to the increase in severe storms and flooding that her constituents are seeing.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida in 2021 killed five people in Pennsylvania. The National Hurricane Center estimated it caused around $3 billion in damage in the state.

More than 83,000 Pennsylvania households applied for relief after Ida. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the National Flood insurance Program paid out more than $265 million for repairs and other needs.

Scientists say emissions must be cut rapidly to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Advocates say this measure will help.

“The cleanest, cheapest energy is the energy that you don’t need to use in the first place. That’s why energy efficiency standards are such a smart policy option,” said Flora Cardoni, PennEnvironment’s Field Director.

For commercial appliances, the bill would require standards set by Energy Star, a public-private partnership administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The measure limits private bathroom faucets to a maximum flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute at 60 pounds per square inch and shower heads to 1.8 gpm at 80 psi. Those are about 30% lower than current federal standards. Home pipe systems usually have a psi between 30 and 80.

Faucets in public restrooms would be limited to half a gallon per minute at 60 psi.

Senate Republican leadership said the bill will be referred to the appropriate standing committee for review.

Gov. Josh Shapiro expressed support for the bill as part of a legislation package that aims to bring environmental and labor interests together.

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