Trump admin blocks phaseout of incandescent lightbulbs

Source: By Lesley Clark, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, January 6, 2020

President Trump, who complains that energy efficient lightbulbs make him “look so orange,” promises his administration is “bringing back the old lightbulb.”

And in the new year, that’s happening. The Department of Energy on Friday issued a final rule that blocks the planned 2020 phaseout of all incandescent bulbs — the traditional pear-shaped bulbs made famous by inventor Thomas Edison.

The department says it doesn’t need to impose more stringent standards that would have removed the old-fashioned bulbs from the market because its analysis found that increasing their efficiency could cost consumers.

“The Trump administration chose to protect consumer choice by ensuring that the American people do not pay the price for unnecessary overregulation from the federal government,” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in a statement.

“Innovation and technology are already driving progress, increasing the efficiency and affordability of lightbulbs, without federal government intervention,” he said. “The American people will continue to have a choice on how they light their homes.”

The department touted the news on Twitter with a campaign titled “Your Bulb, Your Choice.” A tweet from the White House said, “If you like your lightbulbs, you can keep your lightbulbs!” The tweet is seemingly a reference to former President Obama’s much mocked 2013 promise about the Affordable Care Act: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” The White House also tweeted over the weekend that Americans can decorate their houses “with whatever lights you want.”

Environmentalists and consumer advocates say the lightbulb revision is just one part of an anti-regulatory push by the administration that has industry support — and that critics say would slow energy efficiency efforts on products from dishwashers to furnaces.

They pledged to go to court, calling DOE’s analysis flawed and charging that the move will cost consumers and increase emissions that cause global warming.

“It’s all about how to avoid having regulations, as opposed to how do you save people money, how do you reduce carbon emissions,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

Trump, he said, is “bringing back a technology invented in 1880 that simply wastes money and contributes to climate change by wasting energy.”

DOE said its analysis found that requiring more stringent standards for the bulbs would have increased the price by 300% and that the increase is not economically justified because the bulbs do not last long enough for the energy savings to kick in.

The Natural Resources Defense Council questioned the department’s math, saying it “conveniently ignored the super-efficient and reasonably priced LEDs in their analysis.”

“We’d be happy to take DOE’s lawyers to Home Depot so they can see the shelves full of low-cost LED lightbulbs that use four times less energy than today’s incandescent bulbs and save consumers lots of money,” said Noah Horowitz, director of the council’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards.

NRDC contends that the move to keep the traditional incandescent bulbs on store shelves could cost U.S. consumers an extra $14 billion in energy costs and create the need to generate an additional 30 large power plants’ worth of electricity every year.

‘Why do I always look so orange?’

The phaseout of the old-style bulbs was defined by efficiency levels in a 2007 energy law signed by former President George W. Bush that upped efficiency standards over time and favored light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. The 2020 standards would have required bulbs to use 65% less energy than regular incandescent bulbs, a level that all high-efficiency LEDs meet.

The lighting industry has argued that new regulations are superfluous because the consumer market is already trending toward LEDs.

“Our view is that within a few years the incandescent lightbulb sales are going to be very, very small, even if the government did nothing,” said Clark Silcox, general counsel for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. “In light of the fact that the market is already extremely well aligned with energy conservation and emissions, it’s not worth regulating over.”

He said the industry had made several attempts to make a more efficient incandescent bulb but said it didn’t improve the energy savings profile over the bulbs now being sold and it was difficult to get costs down.

Trump, who has railed against energy efficiency standards for dishwashers, sinks and toilets, has harbored particular disdain for efficient lightbulbs, which NRDC estimates have saved the average U.S. household more than $100 annually and avoided 38 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution each year.

Trump touted the expected rule at a Michigan campaign rally last week, insisting that the older lightbulbs are “better” than their energy-efficient replacements.

“I say, ‘Why do I always look so orange?’ You know why? It’s because of the new light. They’re terrible,” Trump said. “You look terrible, and they cost you many, many times more.”

The Department of Energy website, however, contradicts Trump, noting that “quality LED lightbulbs last longer, are more durable, and offer comparable or better light quality than other types of lighting” (Energywire, Sept. 18).

The department in its statement Friday also noted that the cost of LED lightbulbs has dropped by nearly 90% since 2008 and that home installations of the bulbs have increased from 100,000 to nearly 202 million.

It said it expects continued progress on energy-efficient lighting in the absence of the more stringent standards. In a report Friday, DOE said that with continued technological innovation, LED bulbs and luminaires are anticipated to hold the vast majority of lighting installations by 2035, comprising 84% — up from 20% currently and 1% in 2010.

The lightbulb debate has long flared on Capitol Hill where some Republicans have called for the old-style bulbs to be replaced in congressional offices. Democrats have favored efficiency regulations in the name of helping to fight climate change.

In a statement, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he was saddened that Brouillette’s first action as secretary was to perpetrate Trump’s “senseless, backwards efficiency policies.”

“No one but a small handful of manufacturers stand to benefit from this reckless rollback, but that is always where this Administration’s loyalty has been: to industry over people,” Pallone said.

Conservative groups hailed the decision, with the National Center for Public Policy Research thanking the administration “for preserving the simple Edison lightbulb” and saying it will save families money and allow them better aesthetics.

The rule comes as the administration in September withdrew an Obama-era regulation that expanded energy efficiency standards to include bulbs of different shapes, such as candelabras and globe-shaped lighting. The NRDC and others have filed suit against the administration’s decision, and 15 states led by New York and California, as well as New York City and the District of Columbia, have filed a separate lawsuit (Energywire, Sept. 5).

The September rollback also prompted the California Energy Commission to vote in November to adopt updated energy efficiency standards that would prevent the sale of inefficient lightbulbs in the state, starting Jan. 1 (Energywire, Nov. 15).

California and other states argue that scaling back energy-efficient standards violates the 2007 law, would cost customers and negatively affect the environment.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the American Lighting Association have sued, seeking to reverse the commission’s decision.