Low-flow repeal flushed by House subcommittee
The subcommittee's decision is being called a major victory by supporters of the existing 1.6-gpf standard established by the Energy Policy Act of 1992. U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., who sponsored the legislation (H.R. 623), called the vote a setback but vowed to continue the fight.
"We are committed to the fight and to anything Mr. Knollenberg can do to press the issue further," said John Akouri, Knollenberg's spokesman. "He is working with Mr. (Rick) Boucher (D-Va.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, to work something out. Mr. Knollenberg has a good bipartisan working relationship with several congressmen."
Knollenberg stated in a press release two days before the vote: "H.R. 623 will not eliminate the production or use of 1.6-gpf toilets or low-flow showerheads. H.R. 623 does not pre-empt current state or local laws regarding plumbing products or prohibit state or local governments from passing water usage require- ments. However, what H.R. 623 does is let the free market prevail allowing consumers to choose the best product available that meets their needs."
Proponents of the 1.6-gpf standard say the 1992 EPAct saves 600 million gal. of water a day and avoids potentially 50 different toilet regulations across the country. Critics contend that low-flow toilets need to be flushed multiple times, which negates any water savings from the first flush.
Knollenberg's opposition wasted no time highlighting several factors that contributed to the victory, including efforts of both a national coalition and key subcommittee members. Democrats Boucher and John Dingell of Michigan joined Republicans Michael Bilirakis of Florida and Heather Wilson of New Mexico to defeat H.R. 623, said Cece Kremer, vice president/government affairs for the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute.
"Democrats understood the impact the bill would have on business, the environment and competition," she said.
Efforts of a national coalition of 126 manufacturers, organizations and public agencies also helped. The coalition ran an ad in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. The ad highlights the diverse support for uniform national water-efficiency standards.
"Our coalition's grass-roots work helped us win," Kremer said. "Our members visited with their representatives, sometimes three times in 24 hours, to make sure they understood the issues."
The coalition's strategy was to move the argument away from anti-regulation issues and toward water conservation, Kremer said. That swing was accomplished by two amendments added to Knollenberg's bill.
The first amendment required the government to give manufacturers a transition period to counter cheap imports potentially entering the United States. The amendment says that the standard would not take effect until 75% of U.S. plumbing fixture manufacturers were making enough product to competitively enter the market.
"The second amendment was a cost/benefit amendment that states if the bill is passed, it would only take effect when the secretary of energy indicates that benefits of the 1.6-gpf repeal would outweigh costs, including those associated with manufacturers; distributors; federal, state and local governments; municipal water and sewage systems; the environment; and consumers of plumbing supplies," Kremer said.
"We knew the Republicans would respond if we could move the discussion toward the economic impact of the bill and away from the anti-regulatory rhetoric Knollenberg espoused," she added. "A very real unintended consequence of H.R. 623 was that of anti-competitiveness. Once the bill was enacted, American manufacturers would immediately be forced to reinvest, retool, reconfigure and redistribute to reach the newly fractured domestic marketplace. This would hand importers an unfair advantage, which in turn would lead to a potential loss of market share and even more importantly, a potential loss of American jobs. We were able to make that the issue," Kremer said.
The costs associated with repealing the 1.6-gpf standard include the billions of dollars manufacturers would have to spend to retool factories and retrain employees and an estimated $280 billion in infrastructure improvements needed by the United States in the next 20 years, said Barbara Higgens, PMI executive director.