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Donald Trump Confronts the Scourge of Efficient Hot Water Heaters and Furnaces

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President Donald Trump speaks after touring a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas on Jan. 12.
President Donald Trump speaks after touring a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas on Jan. 12.
Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House is ending the way it began, with a slapdash effort to make everything a little (or lot) worse than he found it while trying to burn down the planet in the name of conservative grievances.

The lame-duck period has been a frenzy of environmental rollbacks that continued at a steady clip even as the president incited violence, got banned across social media, and got impeached. With laser-like focus on what truly matters, the administration will publish a final rule on Friday ensuring less efficient hot water heaters and furnaces can continue to be sold. The rule, which was requested by the gas industry, means Americans will now have the pleasure of buying less efficient appliances that will increase energy bills and lead to more carbon pollution. [weeping tears of gratitude] Thank you, Mr. President.


The rule came about in response to a petition by the American Public Gas Association, Spire, Inc., the Natural Gas Supply Association, the American Gas Association, and the National Propane Gas Association, all companies and groups that deal with—you guessed it—methane gas. The groups basically asked the Department of Energy to rethink rules on efficiency, and rethink it did. Furnaces and water heaters can come in both condensing and non-condensing versions. The former is much more efficient, using exhaust gases and water vapor to generate more heat while the latter just spits them out. While condensing models are more expensive up front, they save money down the road by using less fuel and can reduce carbon emissions as a result.

An ideal outcome for people and the planet, one might say. But the Trump administration has other plans. Rather than introducing even more stringent efficiency standards, the Department of Energy ruled that non-condensing furnaces and water heaters are a separate class from their condensing brethren. That will allow manufacturers to keep churning them out and gas companies to keep profits flowing at the expense of homeowners and renters as well as the climate.


It follows the same ethos as many of the other Trump administration’s greatest hits, including making it easier for people to get less efficient light bulbs, less efficient dishwashers, and less efficient showerheads and toilets. But while Trump has found personal reasons to support those other rollbacks—from light bulbs (new ones make him look bad) to toilets (too many flushes for the big guy)—he has yet to express any thoughts on furnaces and hot water heaters. Maybe it’s enough that it will make a polluting industry more money, or perhaps Trump is a secret HVAC head and loves tinkering with non-condensing furnaces in his spare time. But no, I’m probably overthinking it. It will tick the libs off, and that’s probably enough for a man and administration that have run on spite.

It’s a shame for many reasons, but particularly because improving furnace and hot water heater efficiency could the two biggest ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years when it comes to home appliances, according to a report published last year by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. It’s an absolute no-brainer, but then that’s probably why the administration didn’t do anything about it.

The new rule adds to the inefficientapalooza and general headache that the incoming Biden administration to deal with. Consider this week alone: The Trump administration has opened up logging in endangered spotted owl habitat, pushed for a rule that requires banks to issue loans to oil companies to explore the Arctic or face penalties for discrimination, and given a pass to oil and gas production to face any greenhouse gas regulations. Last week, it was allowing migratory birds to be slaughtered with no consequences, opening more Arctic drilling sites, and passing a trash rule to force the Environmental Protection Agency to ignore science. Unfortunately, Trump was elected to a four-year term, and he seems intent on using every day of it to make life more crappy for everyday people while tossing in an attempt to overthrow the government.