On Friday, while meeting with small business owners in the White House about “common-sense” regulatory reform, President Donald Trump told reporters that his administration is considering relaxing federal water-usage limits for toilets, sinks, and showers. “People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once,” the president said, adding that “they end up using more water.”
The liberal press’ coverage of Trump’s comments consisted of a pun-fest of derision aimed at the commander-in-chief. “Donald Trump Forces America to Ponder His Toilet Habits,” Vanity Fair headlined its article, quipping “the only thing we have to fear is 15 flushes.” Mother Jones called it a “weird toilet rant” and CNN framed Trump’s comments around his aside, reporting that “Trump claims Americans have to flush the toilet ’10 times, 15 times,’ as opposed to once.”
But while the media hit the president, the mainstream of American nodded along. “Finally, somebody that gets it!” my sweet apolitical husband wrote in an email forwarding an article of the announcement to me and his brother. When I posted a screen grab to Twitter, his sentiments were quickly echoed.
“He is 100% correct,” said one commentator in response to Trump’s comments, noting that his family had just stayed at a hotel with such low-flush amenities. Others added that they had resorted to a trip to Canada or obtaining older models from older homes to avoid the lack of water pressure in newer toilets and showers. One individual proclaimed, “This will be a winning component of his platform,” and it might even score some “single issue” vote from his family members.
The complaints soon turned to faucets and shower heads (the water trickles), then dishwashers (they take forever, and leave the dishes wet unless you use half-a-bottle of rinse aid—and who knows what harm we’ll discover those chemicals cause in the future), and finally to washing machines (you can’t clothing clean by agitating them in a stream of dirty water). Two common themes soon emerged: dreading the need to replace appliances with newer but worse-working models; and retrofitting supposedly environmentally friendly models to make them functional.
These vents are commonplace because, while most Americans support conservation, they see no sense in regulations so stringent that washers don’t wash, toilets don’t flush, and dishwashers just wash, and wash, and wash, and wash. And average, everyday folks outside the beltway talk about these things with much the same hyperbole that Trump used on Friday.
So, unlike the derision aimed at Trump by the elitist press, the Average Joes and Joannes respond with satisfaction, “Finally, somebody who gets it.”
However, whether the Environmental Protection Agency will loosen the standards is another matter. Since 1992, federal regulations have required tank-type toilets to reduce water use by 20 percent, and regulations demanded a 32 percent reduction in the water flow maximum for bathroom faucets. The EPA is now reconsidering those standards after Congress passed legislation in 2018, mandating the EPA “revisit specifications for tank-type toilets, lavatory faucets and faucet accessories, showerheads, flushing urinals, and weather-based irrigation controllers.”
While it is difficult to imagine that the federal administrative state will succumb to consumer complaints and demands, four months ago we saw just that happen when the Energy Department nixed rules adopted under the Obama administration poised to go into effect on January 1, 2020. Those regulations would have mandated stringent rules for incandescent and halogen light bulbs, as well as all pear-shaped lightbulbs, leaving consumers with high-cost, mercury-filled florescent bulbs as the only option.
Yet the EPA is not the Energy Department, and loosening regulations designed to conserve water will likely face more resistance there. But in raising the issue, Trump has shown, once again, his ability to connect to the common man—and the media has shown itself, once again, oblivious to the president’s appeal.