Calif. pushes back on Trump lightbulb rule

Source: By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2019

A California agency voted this week to establish stronger energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs across the state, pushing back against a Trump administration rule in September that rescinded Obama-era standards.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) elected to adopt updated energy efficiency standards that will prevent the sale of inefficient lightbulbs in the state, starting Jan. 1, 2020. The commission — which aims to lead California to a “100 percent clean energy future” — voted to enact federal regulations on lightbulbs as they were originally drafted, including an Obama plan released in 2017 that would have expanded the types of bulbs subject to stricter efficiency levels.

All five commissioners voted for the measure. J. Andrew McAllister, lead commissioner for energy efficiency, said the rulemaking “clarifies the scope to which our existing 45-lumens-per-watt standard applies.” A 2007 energy law set the 45 lumens per watt for regulated bulbs, which can be met only by compact fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diodes (E&E News PM, Feb. 6).

“It does not establish new or amended regulations,” McAllister said at the Wednesday meeting.

This move comes two months after the Department of Energy withdrew the 2017 provision. DOE also cut efficiency standards for pear-shaped incandescents from being enacted in January (Greenwire, Sept. 4).

At the time, a DOE official told E&E the new set of rules was “not a rollback of standards” and that the move would enhance consumer choice. A DOE spokeswoman said yesterday the department’s previous comments on the matter still stand.

California and other states have argued that the Trump administration’s cancellation of the energy-efficient standards for lightbulbs is illegal and would be not only costly to customers but would have negative environmental impacts.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) filed a lawsuit on Nov. 4 challenging DOE’s lighting rule. He said the Trump administration “needs to move on from old-fashioned technologies and yesterday’s way of doing business” in a press release announcing that filing.

“We can’t afford to turn our back on progress,” Becerra said in a statement.

At the Wednesday meeting, McAllister said commission staff and the chief counsel will continue to support the attorney general’s office in its efforts in the courts, with other states as partners.

A constitutional violation?

Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said states are “stepping up” to make sure lightbulbs sold to consumers aren’t wasting energy. He said the vote makes California the fifth state with lightbulb efficiency standards that will be effective at the start of 2020.

“Unfortunately, the Trump administration has dedicated itself to protecting outdated, wasteful incandescent technology first introduced in the 1800s,” deLaski said.

He said many state leaders recognize that LEDs are not only low-cost and high-quality, but also a “smart way” to reduce climate change emissions from the power sector. DeLaski said that California is significant because of its market size and that as more states adopt their own standards, the share of U.S. residents who live in a state with lightbulb standards will likely grow.

However, Clark Silcox, general counsel for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, said the rule adopted by the commission violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. He said the energy and environmental benefits that are being claimed are considerably smaller than the commission says.

“The CEC significantly underestimated the number of LED lamps sold already and will be sold in the absence of regulation and has overestimated the number of incandescent lamps being sold and will be sold in the absence of regulation,” Silcox wrote in an email. “The market has already beat the regulators. That is true nationally.”

The lighting market is already aligned with national energy conservation and environmental policy, Silcox said.

Nevertheless, Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the efficiency standards will stop the release of millions of tons of climate change pollution from power plants that would otherwise have to keep inefficient bulbs lit. Consumers will still have a wide range of LED lightbulbs to select from that will have the same amount of light as halogen or incandescent bulbs, all with a fraction of the energy, he said.

“Kudos to California for taking this important action despite the likelihood of future lawsuits from the lighting companies, which are desperately trying to preserve their ability to sell energy-wasting incandescents to less-informed consumers as long as possible,” Horowitz wrote in a blog post after the commission’s vote.