The House Energy and Power Subcommittee defeated H.R. 623, better known as the Knollenberg Bill, by a vote of 13-12 on April 12. The bill would have eliminated the federal low-flow plumbing standards for water closets and shower heads enacted under the Energy Policy Act of 1992.
The close vote could have been a victory for the legislation's sponsor, Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI). The day before, the vote looked more in favor of Knollenberg, according to Ce Ce Kremer, vice president/government affairs for the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute.
"It could have very much gone the other way, if it hadn't been for calls our members made to members from their district," Kremer said. "This was Civics 101."
Strange BedfellowsGenerally speaking, Republicans such as Knollenberg would be philosophically opposed to government regulating business. In this case, however, it's the conservative and supposedly Republican business community that's been pressing to keep water conservation regulations in place. Better the same standards for the entire country, they say, than to leave flow rates up to a confusing patchwork of state and local regulations.
Meanwhile, Knollenberg and other opponents of low-flow plumbing contend that low-flow water closets don't save water since they require multiple flushes.
In the end, it was Democrats who lined up to vote against the bill. Just two Republicans joined 11 Democrats to keep current low-flow laws in place. All 12 votes, except for one, in favor of the Knollenberg Bill were from Republicans.
PMI Executive Director Barbara C. Higgens said while the plumbing industry could claim victory in the defeat, the focus should remain on the continuing need to conserve water and the successful role EPAct '92 has had to date in those efforts.
The legislation has been "immensely successful in conserving water while establishing national standards for plumbing fixtures, all of which have resulted in significant savings for consumers and municipalities," Higgens added.
Knollenberg plans to try to introduce the legislation later this year.
Recently, an alliance led by PMI and made up of 126 plumbing companies, water utilities and public agencies ran a series of advertisements promoting national water conservation standards in Roll Call, a newspaper covering events on Capitol Hill. The advertisements actually began running last November, but the campaign was capped off with a two-page, centerfold ad appearing in Roll Call's April 3 issue.
The ad explains the benefits of water conservation and the regulatory stability provided by federal mandates: "It allows business to bring improved products to a national market, rather than spend time and money designing products for differing flush volumes, flow rates, test procedures, certification requirements and labeling rules, all of which could vary by state and local jurisdiction, if federal standards were repealed."