Trump tries to dim efficiency gains in bulbs

Source: Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, February 8, 2019

The Trump administration is rolling back lightbulb standards designed to save consumers money and reduce home energy use.

Passed by Congress in 2007, the standards were updated by the Obama administration in 2017 to include a wider range of lightbulbs. Yesterday, the Trump administration proposed removing certain types of bulbs from the standards set to go into effect next year. That includes three-way bulbs, candle-shaped bulbs and the circular bulbs often used in bathroom fixtures. Rolling back the standards means that half of the sockets in the United States, or some 2.7 billion, would be powered by less efficient bulbs that require more energy and have to be replaced more often, according to critics.

In its proposal, DOE removed the Obama administration’s broader definition of the kinds of bulbs to be covered under the regulations because the “legal basis underlying those revisions misconstrued existing law.”

Democratic lawmakers are planning to hold a hearing on the attempted rollback. In a statement, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said that the Trump administration’s actions would worsen climate change.

“The Department of Energy’s proposal will allow inefficient products to remain on the market for years, costing consumers more money and increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” they said in a statement yesterday. “We’re also concerned that DOE is proposing changes to the efficiency standards development process that will unfairly tilt the process in industry’s favor.”

The administration’s actions could cost consumers up to $12 billion on energy annually and increase demand for electricity, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The rollback, which has long been expected, comes as the Department of Energy swore in Daniel Simmons as the assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Simmons previously worked for the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

“Renewables, along with energy storage and energy efficiency, are critical elements of our overall energy and economic strategy, and I am pleased to have Assistant Secretary Simmons on board to continue advancing our country’s renewable technologies,” Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes said in a statement yesterday.

In an apparent hiccup, DOE continued to promote the benefits of efficient lightbulbs yesterday on its webpages. The newer bulbs cost more initially but they last up to 25 times longer, so they save more money in the long run, the webpage says.

“That lost energy is money we are throwing away,” DOE says on its site. “Newer energy-saving lightbulbs provide the choices in colors and light levels you’ve come to expect. The new lights are also much more efficient — so they save you money.”

The Trump plan would reduce energy savings, said Chris Granda, a researcher at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. High-efficiency bulbs can cost more at the store, but they tend to last years longer than incandescent bulbs, which have to be replaced about once a year, he said. Changing the standards would result in consumers buying billions of additional bulbs, he said.

“This is one of the most, if not the most, consequential energy efficiency standards ever issued by DOE because there are so many lightbulbs out there,” Granda said. “It’s a huge, huge reduction in energy consumption.”

The plan would also place large purchasers of lightbulbs, such as Home Depot, in a bind because the company typically buys its bulbs for Christmas in July, he said. Nothing will be resolved by then, leaving retailers uncertain about what they’re allowed to sell in January — when the Obama-era regulations were supposed to start. That’s because the public comment period will take months, then DOE is required to respond before it finalizes the rule. After a final rule is issued, it’s expected that lawsuits would be filed to reverse the Trump rule. That could take years to resolve.

“A lot of retailers are going to potentially be caught in a bind here because of this proposed rule,” Granda said.

DOE opened a 60-day public comment period on the proposal, including a public meeting on Feb. 28 in Washington, D.C.