DOE rolls back Obama-era lightbulb standards

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Energy Department released a plan today that would rescind lightbulb standards projected to save double the energy of any other efficiency regulation in history.

The notice of proposed rulemaking, which has not yet been published in the Federal Register, would nullify Obama-era rules that would have expanded the types of lighting covered by stricter efficiency levels. Those higher levels were set to take effect in January 2020, according to federal law.

Along with traditional bulbs that fit into table lamps, the plan would have set higher efficiency levels for cone-shaped bulbs, three-way bulbs, reflector lights and other types of fixtures.

According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Obama-era language would have saved about 27 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) of energy over 30 years, compared with 14.8 quads for the largest previous efficiency standard in history, which applied to commercial air conditioners and furnaces (Greenwire, Aug. 8, 2018). One analysis from the Appliance Standards Awareness Project said the rule would have saved emissions from more than 180 coal plants annually.

“DOE has determined that the legal basis underlying those revisions misconstrued existing law,” the notice of proposed rulemaking states.

A legal settlement required DOE to revisit the issue after the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) sued the department last year. The group argued that the Obama-era standards strayed far from the intent of Congress in covering models in odd shapes that don’t fit into standard lightbulb sockets.

Environmentalists disagreed, saying there are efficient versions of the expanded bulbs. Noah Horowitz, director of NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said the plan would cut in half the number of bulbs covered by energy-saving rules and would thwart progress on climate change.

“DOE is making such a dangerous proposal despite the recent dire warnings about the fate of our planet,” Horowitz said. He said the move is “almost certainly going to end up in court.”

NEMA did not immediately comment on the plan. DOE said it would hold a meeting on the lightbulb notice of proposed rulemaking on Feb. 28. The plan won’t be complete until DOE issues a final rule after a comment period.

The proposed rule release came a few hours after the ceremonial swearing-in of Dan Simmons as assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which oversees efficiency standards.

“Renewables, along with energy storage and energy efficiency, are critical elements of our overall energy and economic strategy,” Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes said at the event.

Next week, the House Energy and Commerce Energy Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on “illegal” delays in more than a dozen efficiency standards.

According to a 2007 energy law, regulated bulbs are expected by 2020 to meet an efficiency threshold of 45 lumens per watt, which can be met only by compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs. Halogen incandescents — the modern version of Thomas Edison’s traditional bulbs — fall short.