Trump Administration Is Rolling Back Rules Requiring More Energy-Efficient Bulbs

Source: By John Schwartz, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Trump administration announced new rules on Wednesday to roll back requirements for energy-saving light bulbs, a move that could contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The Energy Department’s filing in the Federal Register will prevent new efficiency standards from going into effect on Jan. 1 under a law passed in 2007.

The changes are likely to be challenged in court. “We will explore all options, including litigation, to stop this completely misguided and unlawful action,” said Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council, last week in anticipation of the move.

The gradual shift toward more efficient light bulbs is one of the largely unsung success stories in the fight to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. “U.S. household energy consumption is down 6 percent since 2010, and this is due in part to the increase in the use of energy-efficient lighting,” said Lucas Davis, a professor in the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

LED bulbs show how seemingly modest shifts in technology can have a profound effect on people’s lives — and wallets. Because of their long life and energy efficiency, an LED bulb can save consumers an estimated $50 to $100 over its several-year lifetime, while reducing the number of times a year they need to climb a stepladder or kitchen table to replace burnt-out bulbs. (LED bulbs, once many times more expensive than incandescent bulbs, have dropped in price and can often be found for less than $2 each.)

Congress passed legislation to phase out inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs in 2007, during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Although the bill was passed with bipartisan support, some conservative lawmakers turned the transition into a partisan dispute during the Obama administration. However, “This is not a partisan consumer good anymore,” Professor Davis said. “In 2019, so many consumers now have experiences with LEDs — LEDs are being sold in large volumes in all 50 states.”

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One part of the new standards would have required the adding of four kinds of incandescent and halogen light bulbs to the energy-efficient group: three-way, the candle-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers; the globe-shaped bulbs found in bathroom lighting; reflector bulbs used in recessed fixtures; and track lighting. A rule that will be published Thursday in the Federal Register will eliminate the requirement for those four categories of bulbs.

The Department of Energy was also supposed to begin a broader upgrade concerning energy efficiency in pear-shaped bulbs, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. The department is proposing a new rule that would eliminate that requirement, subject to a 60-day comment period.

While some consumers have complained about the light quality and durability of compact fluorescent bulbs, the market has welcomed LED bulbs, which can have a richer light spectrum and can last for many years. But the companies that manufacture light bulbs have pushed against the regulatory shift requiring more efficient ones.

The trade association for companies that make light bulbs applauded the Energy Department’s actions. In a statement, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association said that the Obama administration’s effort to expand the law to include the specialty bulbs “misconstrued the statute and DOE could not justify that prior effort.” Noting that LED bulbs are already selling well, the group said the final rule “will not impact the market’s continuing, rapid adoption of energy-saving lighting in the next few years.”

Mr. Horowitz, the N.R.D.C. director, said regulation was necessary. “Energy-wasting incandescents and halogens still make up more than a third of new bulb sales. We need standards to ensure every new bulb sold is an efficient one.”

His group estimates that putting efficient bulbs in all six billion light sockets in the United States could mean $14 billion in savings in 2025, “equivalent to the electricity generated by 25 large power plants,” he said.

In a statement, Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy, said that the 2007 law requires the department to issue standards “only when doing so would be economically justified. These standards are not,” and would lead to price increases on incandescent bulbs. “This action,” she said, “will ensure that the choice of how to light homes and businesses is left to the American people, not the federal government.”

Jason Hartke, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit coalition of business and environmental groups, said “The Energy Department flat out got it wrong today.” Calling the move an “unforced error,” he added, “Wasting energy with inefficient light bulbs isn’t just costly for homes and businesses, it’s terrible for our climate.”