In his first months on Capitol Hill, Sen. Rand Paul delivered a memorable diatribe against government regulations that he said were preventing him from enjoying a well-functioning toilet, a problem that apparently continues to plague the Kentucky Republican judging by an amendment he offered last week to a pending energy bill.
"It will cost thousands of dollars to go back and add some kind of jet stream to the toilets in my [house]," Paul said during the instantly viral exchange at a 2011 Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. "We don't even save money. We flush them 10 times. They don't work."
Later in the hearing, Paul said he had been "waiting for 20 years to talk about how bad these toilets are."
Last week, Paul floated an amendment to the pending energy bill to eliminate "regulation of plumbing supplies," including rules stemming from the 1992 Energy Policy Act restricting the amount of water that can be used to flush a toilet.
Many policy observers see the amendment as frivolous and unlikely to come to a vote, but water efficiency advocates and plumbing suppliers are not taking any chances. More than three dozen groups, including the Alliance for Water Efficiency and Kohler Co., sent a letter to Senate leaders urging opposition to the amendment.
"In our view, passage of this amendment would set the U.S. back two decades and would eliminate the continued water and energy savings that have benefitted the nation," the groups wrote.
Paul, a first-term libertarian, has emerged as a leading tea party voice in the Senate and is talked about as one of the GOP's top potential candidates for the 2016 presidential election. He frames his opposition to efficiency rules as a matter of personal choice in an area he thinks the government should not be involved in. At the 2011 hearing, Paul said it was hypocritical for Democrats to typically define themselves as "pro-choice" on issues related to abortion rights while also supporting rules that he said restricted the types of toilets or light bulbs consumers could buy.
Paul is no longer a member of the Energy Committee, but he was a consistent vote against efficiency bills that came before the panel in the 112th Congress.
Then-Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Kathleen Hogan, the deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the Energy Department, defended the federal efficiency rules as an effort to avoid a "patchwork" of different regulations in each state. Hogan noted that the toilet provisions were included in the 1992 rule in part because of lobbying by equipment manufacturers and plumbers.
Paul introduced his amendment to S. 1392, the efficiency legislation from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). The amendment is unlikely to get a vote and almost certainly would fail if it did, but even the fate of the broader efficiency bill remains in doubt.
The Shaheen-Portman bill was effectively stuck in a holding pattern last week as Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) blocked consideration of any amendments in an effort to secure a vote on unrelated health care legislation -- creating a showdown that grew increasingly testy as the week advanced (E&E Daily, Sept. 16).
Senate business was delayed yesterday due to a shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and several aides said yesterday that little progress had been made in negotiations between Vitter and Senate Democrats.
A second letter is expected to go out today from other energy, environmental and pro-efficiency companies and groups urging opposition to Paul's amendment, which would affect a broad array of water-saving standards. Among the signers of the second letter are the Natural Resources Defense Council, Alliance to Save Energy and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
Paul's office did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.