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How Trump’s stance on energy-efficient appliances is connected to nostalgia

For years, Washington has seen a bipartisan push to change laws, regulations and incentives to make household appliances and goods more energy efficient. In a warming world, many scientists and advocates say even tougher standards should be set. But President Trump is moving to roll back some of those laws, arguing they’ve gone too far. John Yang talks to The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For years, there's been a bipartisan push in Washington to change laws, regulations and incentives to make household appliances and goods more energy-efficient.

    But, as John Yang tells us, President Trump is moving to roll back some of those laws, arguing they have gone too far.

  • John Yang:

    It's become a feature of President Trump's political speeches: highlighting what he says is excessive regulation of household goods.

    Take the Battle Creek, Michigan, rally the night the House voted to impeach him. The president bashed stricter energy standards that would have phased out many incandescent bulbs on January 1, which, estimates say, would have affected half the bulbs in light sockets in U.S. homes.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're even bringing back the old lightbulb. You heard about that, right? The old lightbulb, which is better. I say, why do I always look so orange? You know why? Because of the new light.

    They're terrible. You look terrible. They cost you many, many times more, like four or five times more.

  • John Yang:

    Two days later, the Energy Department announced it is keeping incandescent and halogen lightbulbs on the market, saying the new rules would have been too costly for consumers.

    Earlier this month at a small business roundtable, the president's focus was on bathroom fixtures.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You turn on the faucet, you don't get any water. They take a shower, and water comes dripping out. It's dripping out, very quietly dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water.

    So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion.

  • John Yang:

    The president has also taken issue with bans on plastic straws and has begun selling them on his campaign Web site.

    Environmental advocates say many of President Trump's claims are inaccurate or use outdated information. All of this comes with an election year on the horizon. Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to make climate change a top priority. The president has frequently denied or been skeptical of the scientific consensus on the issue.

    The Trump administration has also moved to roll back fuel standards on cars and trucks. That's a big part of America's daily lives and a big source of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Juliet Eilperin covers all this for The Washington Post. She is in Columbus, Georgia, for the holidays. And she joins us just by Skype.

    Juliet, thanks so much for being with us.

    So, lightbulbs, low-flow toilets, fuel efficiency for cars and trucks. What are other areas that the president is talking about and where he could have an impact on federal regulations.

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    He's looking at those, including dishwashers, furnaces that people use in their home, shower heads, so really kind of some of these everyday appliances that people are familiar with that affect their lives and, of course, use energy.

  • John Yang:

    And have real impact, real effects.

    What are some of the experts saying, for instance, on the lightbulb standards? Not putting that in place, what is the effect of that?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    So, when you look at one of the independent estimates, it seems like this could cost up to $14 billion a year and emit an addition 38 million tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to 30 coal-fired power plants running for a year.

  • John Yang:

    And environmental advocates and Democrats have also been saying that the president and some of these arguments, some of these things he's been saying are not necessarily based on fact or may be outdated information. What are some examples of that?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    Well, he has talked about — for example, he said that women tell him that they have to press the button on their dishwasher 12 times to get their dishes cleaned, and it used to take five minutes.

    He's described the idea that, for low-flush toilets, you would have to flush them between 10 and 15 times.

    So, in many cases, he's describing kind of woefully inadequate functions that don't seem to comport with the real-world performance of many of these more efficient appliances.

  • John Yang:

    The president ran on deregulation. And in the first year of his administration, he was pretty aggressive about it. But it was about things like industry, like power plants, coal-fired power plants.

    What's your sense of why he's focusing on these sorts of things now?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    These are the kinds of changes — and when he talks about, if you like your own lightbulb, you can keep it — that people have a tangible connection to, that it resonates more with people, the same thing with gas mileage, and what kind of car you drive.

    That's something that, again, Americans can relate to, whereas most Americans, of course, they turn on their light switch, but they're not thinking about the power plant or the solar or wind project that's powering it.

    So, these kind of really tangible issues are ones that resonate, particularly when you're talking about the upcoming presidential campaign of 2020, where the president is again invoking the kind of nostalgia that has served him very well in the past.

  • John Yang:

    One thing we know, Juliet, about the president's speeches is that, if he gets something that he gets a reaction to, he keeps coming back to it over and over again.

    The fact that he's focusing on this, is that a sign that maybe he's tapped into something that resonates with his base?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    You saw it when you showed the image or the clip from the Michigan rally. When he raised the issue of dishwashers, the crowd responded. They responded when he raised toilets.

    So these are issues that connect to folks. And he is also — one thing that I think is so interesting is, he is personally interested in these issues. He weighs in on them. He's asked his deputies to look into these issues. He's said that he wants to weigh in when they finalize their rule creating an exemption for certain kinds of dishwashers so they don't have to be as efficient.

    This is a president who ran a hotel chain and paid attention to the details, whether it was dust on the chandeliers or the condition of the rugs. And he understands how people have a tactile experience with their surroundings. And all this is really playing into it.

  • John Yang:

    Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, thanks so much for helping us understand this.

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    My pleasure.

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