States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules

States are preparing to fight back as the Trump administration moves to erase Obama-era standards for lightbulbs.

The Department of Energy has proposed new regulations for lightbulbs that would eliminate efficiency standards for half the bulbs on the market.

The move has prompted a backlash from a bipartisan mix of state attorneys general and governors who say it is harmful to the planet and may be illegal.


Washington and Colorado passed bills this month designed to backstop the Obama-era standards if the Energy Department proceeds to roll them back, and half a dozen other states are considering similar legislation. Vermont passed such a law as soon as President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE was elected.

State leaders say they are fighting what they see as an alarming trend under the Trump administration where agencies with an environmental purview are instead rolling back green regulations.

“It’s unfortunate if the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t actually want to protect the environment or that the Department of Energy is not interested in energy efficiency,” said Colorado state Rep. Meg Froelich (D), who sponsored the legislation to commit the state to the Obama-era standards for lightbulbs and other devices. “We don’t want to become a dumping ground for energy inefficient appliances.”

The administration proposal is supported by lightbulb manufacturers, but consumer groups estimate continuing to use less efficient bulbs will cost the average household more than $100 a year and create more pollution as utilities produce energy that otherwise would not be needed.

There are also questions about the legality of the rollback — federal law prohibits backsliding on efficiency standards, barring “decreases [in] the minimum required energy efficiency.”

Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryTomorrow's special election in Texas is the Democrats' best House hope in 2021 Overnight Energy: Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard |  White House says gas tax won't be part of infrastructure bill Trump alumni launch America First Policy Institute MORE appeared to acknowledge as much in an appearance before Congress Thursday, telling lawmakers portions of the Obama regulation were burdensome but that “you can never back up a standard.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneIntercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms MORE (D-N.J.) grilled Perry, telling the secretary the rollback would “lead to years of unnecessary electricity generation and carbon emissions — just to power inefficient and outdated lightbulbs. It’s unclear who benefits from this, absent a handful of lightbulb manufacturers.”

Governors, attorneys general, and Democratic senators have expressed concern or asked the Energy Department to withdraw the rule entirely. If the agency proceeds with rolling back the standards, they are likely to be hit with lawsuits from a coalition of 16 different states as well as environmental groups.

Vermont Gov. Philip Scott (R) tried to appeal to Perry’s previous role as a Texas governor, warning that states could pass their own more aggressive standards.

“As a former governor yourself, I know you have experienced the negative effects of inconsistent federal regulation, particularly when this proves disruptive to businesses and results in additional costs passed onto consumers,” he wrote in a letter to the Energy Department.

Vermont passed a law to commit to the Obama-era efficiency standards two years ago amid concern the recently elected Trump administration wouldn’t be as aggressive on energy efficiency.

“We did it to try and convince the Department of Energy and also Congress to not roll any of these standards back,” said state Rep. Kurt McCormack (D), a longtime electrician who sponsored the law there.

The industry has pushed back against the characterization of the Energy Department proposal as a rollback.

“The idea that we are returning to some by-gone era is nonsense,” Clark R. Silcox, general counsel for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), wrote in a blog post. “Yes, there is still a little way more to go to this lighting market transformation, but this is not the ‘nightmare’ nor is it as ‘bad economically’ that some of our colleagues in the energy efficiency community are portraying.”

The Department of Energy did not respond to request for comment from The Hill.

There are about 6 billion lightbulbs used to power American homes. About 3.3 billion are the traditional, pear-shaped kind, while another 2.7 billion run the gamut of shapes and sizes.

It was under the George W. Bush administration that Congress first enacted standards for lightbulbs in 2007, paving the way to phase out pear-shaped incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient ones.

Those incandescent bulbs, which create light through heat, put 70 percent of their electricity toward creating heat and just 30 percent toward creating light. They were rapidly replaced as more efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs came on the scene.

More efficient options were not, however, as available in all the other shapes consumers desire, such as the round bulbs used above bathroom vanities or flatter ones used for recessed lighting.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, the Energy Department aimed to change that, finalizing a rule in January 2017 that expanded the definition of a lightbulb to include nearly all types of bulbs by 2020.

Under Perry, the agency's standards would not change but regulations would only apply to pear-shaped bulbs.

Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which pushes for more efficient appliances, said the potential rollback would be a boon to lightbulb manufacturers.

“It’s more than [selling existing] inventory,” he said. “Whenever a manufacturer sells an incandescent lightbulb, it’s going to burn out in about a year, and they can sell you a new one a year later. When they sell an LED they don’t sell another one for another 10 years.”

General Electric, the largest manufacturer of lightbulbs in the U.S., said in their comments to the Energy Department that the company doesn’t sell enough bulbs in alternative shapes to justify the regulation.

However, figures from NEMA show that the market share of incandescent bulbs has steadily declined since 2012.

McCormack stressed the superiority of LED bulbs and the small share of inefficient bulbs Vermont’s law would remove from store shelves.

“This is really just kind of getting the junk off the market that make people think they’re getting a good deal because they cost less but end up costing them more money in the long run,” he said.

Perry was pushed to defend the lightbulb rules by Democrats Thursday, with many lawmakers suggesting outside forces, rather than the Energy secretary, were pushing the rollback.

“He’s just, you know, going along with the message from the top,” said Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoHouse GOP campaign arm adds to target list Unleashing an American-led clean energy economy to reach net-zero emissions Lawmakers press federal agencies on scope of SolarWinds attack MORE (D-N.Y.), “and it’s not innovative. It’s not committed to doing what’s best for the consumers or the environment. And I find that unacceptable.”