Trump lightbulb regs head to court

Source: By Niina H. Farah, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Environmental and consumer advocacy groups are filing a lawsuit today against the Department of Energy for what they argue is an unlawful change to federal lightbulb efficiency standards earlier this year.

Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment America and the Sierra Club are joining with the Consumer Federation of America, Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants and U.S. Public Interest Research Group to challenge the Trump administration’s final rule exempting incandescent bulbs and other lighting products from national energy efficiency standards.

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) is also leading a coalition of 16 states and New York City in a separate lawsuit against the rule reversal today.

The rule rollback finalized in September undoes efficiency standards extended under President Obama to lightbulbs of different shapes, including reflector lamps in recessed fixtures and candelabra lamps in chandeliers and ceiling fans (Greenwire, Sept. 4).

It is separate from a proposed rule on pear-shaped incandescent bulbs also announced in September that is not part of the lawsuit.

The groups challenging DOE in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals say the rule is violating an anti-backsliding provision in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which they say does not give DOE the authority to repeal the extended standards.

Amendments to the law in 2007 prompted the Obama administration to end certain exceptions excusing “general service lamps” like incandescent bulbs from the initial national efficiency standards set under the EPCA. The change, which went into effect right before President Trump took office, effectively took the most inefficient lightbulbs off the market, according to the environmental groups.

They maintain that Congress intended under the EPCA for DOE to make increasingly stringent standards by closing loopholes as technology evolved, but did not give the agency the ability to ease standards once they were in place.

“The statute supplies a backstop standard that is set at a level incandescent bulbs can’t meet, and it takes effect on January 2020,” said Tim Ballo, an Earthjustice staff attorney. “The rollback in this rule restores exemptions for hundreds of millions of sales.”

He noted that while market pressure has pushed for broader adoption of light-emitting diodes for pear-shaped bulbs, the same shift hasn’t happened for the lighting affected by the rule rollback.

The 2020 standards — set to go into effect before the rule change — were considered a significant step toward cutting carbon emissions. A report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the standards would reduce CO2 emissions by 540 million metric tons by 2030 and lead to $120 billion in cost savings for consumers over three decades.

“It’s outrageous that the Department of Energy turned its back on the law passed by a bipartisan Congress and supported by industry more than 12 years ago to ensure our lighting is as energy efficient as possible,” said Kit Kennedy, senior director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy Program, in a statement.

Kennedy said the backtracking would also lead to more dumping of inefficient incandescent and halogen models in the U.S. since the bulbs have been banned or phased out in countries around the globe.

DOE did not respond to a request for comment, but an agency official previously said the rule would not have much of an impact on the overall lighting market.

The New York attorney general also slammed DOE’s rollback. “The Trump Administration’s not-so-bright idea to rollback light bulb energy efficiency standards is an obvious attempt to line the pockets of energy executives while simultaneously increasing pollution and raising energy bills for consumers,” James said in a statement.

“The United States cannot and will not be the exception to the international movement to phase out the inefficient, unnecessary, and costly use of incandescent bulbs,” she added. “My office will continue to work with our partner states and municipalities to reverse this action, save New Yorkers money on electricity bills, and cut climate change emissions by reducing the coal and gas burned in power plants.”