Congratulations, portable air conditioner buyers and sellers. This product now qualifies for… government regulation!

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently determined that portable air conditioners meet the criteria set under the Energy Policy Conservation Act (as amended) for efficiency mandates. Like all other efficiency regulations, mandated appliance standards remove choices from individuals and empower Washington to override personal preferences.

DOE concluded that the average household use of electricity for portable air conditioners exceeds the limit to trigger consideration for regulation. The energy use threshold for DOE bureaucrats to begin inspecting and testing an appliance is low.

Any appliance where the average annual energy use exceeds a 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year receives a visit from the efficiency police. To put that energy figure into context, one kilowatt-hour provides enough electricity to watch TV for 10 hours or vacuum for an hour. Such a low threshold enables government regulators to mandate efficiency requirements for more than 50 different products from televisions, laundry machines, and dishwashers to light bulbs.

Energy efficiency regulations date back to the 1970s as a government-forced way to reduce energy use. Administrations from both parties used the framework set in the Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1975 to expand the DOE’s authority to regulate energy use. Proponents argue that efficiency mandates for businesses and families are win-win. They save consumers money through lower energy bills and reduce environmental pollutants.

But regulations on appliances, vehicles, and buildings that mandate reduced energy use were as bad four decades ago as they are today. Market forces will appropriately place the right value on energy savings—as well as the other attributes of appliances and other regulated products. Individuals may prefer a larger, heavier vehicle for safety; an incandescent light bulb for the color and heat it emits; or a dishwasher that uses more water but gets the job done in half the time.

The federal government shouldn’t be placing a higher value on energy savings over safety, comfort, convenience, time, or any number of considerations an individual applies when purchasing a good. Suppliers will meet the market demand for the wide diversity consumers in the world without any nudging from the government.

Americans live in an age where information is readily available to consumers. A simple Google search for “portable air conditioners and energy savings” provides a range of products as well as several information sites as to why portable air conditioners lower energy bills. Informational sites also exist as to how these air conditioners waste energy. Consumers even have the choice not to bother with such research. In every instance, the choice should be driven by the individual.

Milton Friedman superbly said, “Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.” In trying to protect Americans from higher energy bills, the federal government is making us all worse off.