Energy-wasting lightbulbs aren't worth saving, so why is the Trump administration trying?
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What takes electricity, turns most of the energy into heat, and releases a small amount of light? That’s the incandescent lightbulb, a proven if rather inefficient technology from the 1800s but still found in millions of America’s light sockets today. The old-fashioned incandescent bulb lights a room, but it wastes more than 90 percent of the electricity it uses as heat, which increases our electric bills.

The good news is that we now have energy-saving alternatives for just about every type of bulb we use in our homes and businesses: LEDs, in particular, use a fraction of the electricity to make the same amount of light.

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But the Trump administration’s Energy Department wants to go backward and embrace a clearly obsolete bulb – proposing recently to roll back efficiency standards that would put more varieties of high-efficiency bulbs on store shelves next year. If it succeeds, we’ll all be stuck with extra energy costs, and our climate will suffer as we needlessly waste more energy for years to come.

We started this debate in 2007, when Congress overwhelmingly passed – and President George W. Bush signed – comprehensive energy legislation that helped usher in many of the more efficient lightbulb options we have today.

The law set energy efficiency standards for the traditional pear-shaped bulbs, meaning new bulbs sold had to produce a minimum amount of light for each unit of electricity they consumed. Those standards helped drive the rapid growth of the LED market, and prices dropped quickly. The public has benefited from buying less electricity and polluting less.

But pear-shaped bulbs make up only about half of the bulbs in U.S. households; what about the globe-shaped bulbs common over bathroom vanities, the cone-shaped bulbs in recessed lights, or the flame-shaped candelabra models? There are no efficiency standards for most of these bulbs, and the old energy-wasting types are still dominant on many store shelves and in homes and businesses.

Congress, in the bipartisan law passed 12 years ago, ordered the Energy Department to evaluate which other shapes of bulbs were being used for general lighting purposes – based in part on sales data – and include them in future efficiency standards. The department did just that in 2017, concluding that several types, including the globe, cone, and candelabra shapes, should be subject to efficiency standards as well.

That update was set to go into effect this coming January – meaning stores would be filled with more efficient bulbs of many shapes. But the Trump administration is now proposing to repeal that update, which would keep us firmly in the era of the energy-wasting bulbs.

The consequences are big. The Trump administration’s rollback, if successful, would needlessly saddle Americans with an enormous amount of energy waste for years to come. The extra electricity required would be equal to the amount produced by 25 coal power plants – or enough to power all the homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania combined. And the average household would miss out on about $100 in guaranteed electricity savings every year.

The rollback wouldn’t just be bad economically; it would be a nightmare for our climate – requiring more polluting fossil fuel power plants to work to provide the extra electricity just to waste it on old-fashioned bulbs.

This is a time when we should be unleashing innovation, not arbitrarily putting up impediments to it. This Trump proposal is about as anti-innovation as you get.

The solution is easy: the administration should withdraw the rollback plan so households and businesses will keep the energy savings they were due to enjoy. We urge Congress and all who like saving energy and money while protecting the environment to weigh in against this plan by the public comment deadline on Friday. Now’s your chance.

Andrew deLaski is executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. Jason Hartke is President of the Alliance to Save Energy. Noah Horowitz is director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards. Steve Nadel is executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.