States Step Up on Appliance Standards as the Federal Government Goes Backwards

Posted on by
Marianne DiMascio

States took the lead on new appliance efficiency standards during the first half of 2019, helping to counter some of the federal government’s efforts to stall and even reverse energy and water efficiency progress. Legislators in ten states and the District of Columbia filed bills to adopt appliance standards for more than 15 products not covered by national standards. Many also sought to push back against the proposed federal rollback of light bulb standards, by putting them into state law.


Governors in Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington this year signed laws adopting cost-effective new appliance standards that will save consumers money, reduce energy and water waste, and decrease harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Not to be outdone, the California Energy Commission, a long-time leader on appliance standards, continued its regulatory work to add new standards. Vermont adopted its package of new appliance standards in 2018.

One of the reasons states pursue standards is to reduce energy costs for their residents and businesses. For example, restaurant equipment like dishwashers, fryers, steam cookers, and hot food-holding cabinets must meet minimum energy saving standards under the new laws in Colorado, Hawaii and Washington. These standards will save a restaurant owner about $5,000 per year on electricity, gas, and water bills. The new laws also deliver consumer savings. In Hawaii, which has the nation’s highest electricity prices, a household replacing a kitchen faucet and showerhead with those meeting the new state standards can expect to save over $200 per year on utility bills. Altogether, consumers and businesses in Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington will save nearly $250 million on utility bills in 2025 alone because of the states’ new energy and water-saving standards

States also look to standards to help reduce CO2 and other harmful emissions. We estimate that the new laws will reduce CO2 emissions in Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington by more than 375,000 metric tons, equivalent to the emissions from 80,000 cars. Here’s the breakdown of utility bill savings and CO2 reductions by state:

table of bill savings and CO2 reductions

Colorado, Vermont, and Washington have each enacted minimum efficiency standards for 15 or more products and Hawaii for 5 products, including computers, faucets, showerheads, and lighting. The new standards are based on existing California standards, older ENERGY STAR and WaterSense specifications that have achieved relatively high market shares, and federal standards completed during the Obama administration but withheld by the current administration from final publication.  With the federal government now having missed 18 deadlines for updates to various national standards, the state laws to advance efficiency could not come at a better time.


Earlier this year the US Department of Energy proposed to roll back light bulb standards that take effect in January and that would be the biggest energy-saving standard of all time. 

Colorado, Vermont, and Washington pushed back against this misguided rollback attempt by including a provision that puts the federal light bulb standards into their new state laws. Nevada joined in the effort with its own new law enacting the light bulb standards. Under a special provision in the federal law, California started implementing the 2020 federal standards for some light bulbs in 2018. While the DOE rollback attempt is certain to draw a legal challenge, these states have ensured that they will keep the standards, at least for some light bulbs. 

The light bulb standards are a big deal. We estimate that they will save consumers nationwide $12 billion annually and reduce climate-changing CO2 emissions by 30 million metric tons or the equivalent of 6 million cars in 2025.

California, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont and Washington haven’t stopped with protecting light bulb standards. They also have put in place legal provisions that ensure their residents will continue to benefit from all the other national efficiency standards even if they are repealed federally. 


In 2020, we expect various other states including New Jersey and New York to advance appliance standards bills.  With the federal government seemingly intent on going backwards on energy and water efficiency, state leadership will be more important than ever.