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Posted on: 04/11/2001 at P & M Magazine - Industry News:

Knollenberg Resurrects Bill To Amend Federal Low Flow Toilet Law

In another attempt to "get the federal government out of our bathroom," Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., reintroduced his bill proposing amending water conservation laws. The bill, HR 1479 was introduced by Knollenberg and 34 co-sponsors to the House of Representatives on April 4. The bill seeks to rescind the rules set by EPAct in 1992 regarding water consumption of toilets, shower heads, faucets, and other plumbing supplies.

Knollenberg maintains that the government's mandate of restricting toilets to 1.6 gallons per flush toilets disregards a consumer's right to choose.

He also suggests a black market has developed for the older 3.5-gpf toilets, saying the current restrictions "force consumers to either become lawbreakers or live with showerheads that dribble and toilets that simply don't get the job done."

Knollenberg's new bill is exactly the same as his previous attempts and has been referred to the same committee that defeated it last year by a vote of 13 to 12. This time around, he's found 34 co-sponsors of the bill, as compared to 30 the last time it was introduced.

Last year, the centerpiece of Knollenberg's argument for the bill was the consumer's choice was restricted to ineffective low-flow toilets. This year, Knollenberg appears to be focusing on the regulatory issue of state versus federal rights. Knollenberg argues that it is a state's right to impose restrictions on it's manufacturers - not the federal government.

Lake Coulson, director of governmental relations for the PHCC-NA, suggests one of the most alarming developments this time around is Knollenberg's position as the chair of a subcommittee within the House's Appropriations Committee. It is possible that the bill could be attached to another bill and passed into law - without an opportunity for much debate.

Barbara Higgens, executive director of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute says PMI is "very disappointed to see who signed on to this bill." She says it is confusing that representatives from states with water supply or treatment problems such as Arizona, Texas, Illinois, New Mexico and Florida have representatives endorsing the bill. It is most likely not in the best interest for these states to support a bill that would work against water conservation.

"One of the scariest things is that there is a lack of infrastructure to handle any increase in water consumption," says Cece Kremer, vice president of governmental affairs for PMI.

The effects of low-flow toilets on water treatment facilities are enormous. Since toilets may account for nearly 40 percent of the water consumed in a typical household, the aggregate water savings can extend the working life of water treatment facilities - cutting maintenance costs and allowing facilities to serve a greater number of people.

Higgens says one of PMI's primary concerns is uniformity of regulations faced by manufacturers. If the federal laws were taken away, the individual states' laws would be left standing, creating a patchwork of different rules and regulations for manufacturers to deal with. Different toilets (and other plumbing supplies) would have to be created for different states. The prices of toilets would most likely rise as the manufacturers would have to specialize their lines of toilets and assure that they are shipped to the correct place.

Another point made by both PMI and the PHCC-NA concerns the effectiveness of the low-consumption toilets that are being produced today. When the conservation laws limiting toilet water consumption went into effect, toilet manufacturers were forced to quickly produce toilets that would meet the new standards. The result was the first few generations of 1.6 gpf toilets that were made did not work nearly as well as their older, 3.5 gpf counterparts.

However, in the seven years since the conservation laws took effect, the manufacturers of toilets have had the time to improve the design of the low-flow toilet.

Many groups, including PMI, the PHCC-NA and others are trying to prevent this bill from passing by raising public awareness about the issue and encouraging people to write to their representatives in the House.

To view a list of co-sponsors of the bill, visit http://thomas.loc.gov, and follow the links for bill HR 1479.

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