Energy & Environment

Trump administration rolls back Obama-era lightbulb rules


The Department of Energy (DOE) finalized a controversial rule Tuesday that would erase Obama-era efficiency standards for lightbulbs.

The regulation eliminates efficiency standards for about half the bulbs on the market. It leaves in place rules for standard pear-shaped bulbs, while removing such requirements for recessed lighting, chandeliers and other shapes of bulbs.{mosads}

When first proposed, the rule was 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.

“The Energy Department flat out got it wrong today. Instead of moving us forward, this rule will keep more energy-wasting bulbs on store shelves,” Jason Hartke, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said in a statement. “If you wanted folks to pay a lot more than they should on electric bills, this rollback would be a pretty good way of doing it.”

The rule will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

DOE argued its rule will have little impact given the increasing demand for LED bulbs, which use less electricity than many other types.

“This rule does not prevent consumers from buying the lamps they desire, including efficient options,” the agency wrote in the rule. “The market is successfully transitioning to LEDs regardless of government regulation. Consumers are clearly taking advantage of the energy savings provided by LEDs.”

A senior DOE official told reporters that “concerns may be overstated” and the new rule would not have a large impact on the market.

“This regulation gives consumers more choices, and consumers are better off with more choices,” he said. 

But Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said incandescent bulbs still make up about 45 percent of the market.

NRDC and other energy efficiency and environmental groups have argued that the DOE rule is illegal given federal laws that prohibit backsliding on energy efficiency standards, barring “decreases [in] the minimum required energy efficiency.”

Energy Secretary Rick Perry appeared to acknowledge as much in a May appearance before Congress, telling lawmakers portions of the Obama regulation were burdensome but that “you can never back up a standard.”

Any lawsuits filed over the rule are likely to hang on that portion of the law, along with directives from Congress during the George W. Bush and Obama years to increase efficiency standards and phase out inefficient incandescent and halogen light bulbs.

“We will explore all options, including litigation, to stop this completely misguided and unlawful action,” Horowitz said in a statement. “Today’s action sets the United States up to become the world’s dumping ground for the inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs being phased out around the world. Given the worsening climate crisis, this is no time to significantly increase pollution and consumer energy bills just so a few lighting companies can make more money selling inefficient bulbs.”

DOE has argued it is not rolling back energy efficiency standards because they are changing the definition of which lightbulbs the rule applies to rather than changing the standard itself.

DOE also announced Tuesday it’s proposal to not review the efficiency standards that will still apply to pear-shaped lightbulbs.

In addition to green groups, states may also be a source of litigation. Many states have passed bills to include the broader definition previously used by the federal government, and 16 mostly Democratic-led states opposed the Energy Department’s lightbulb rule when it was first announced. 

“With all that’s at stake in the world, the Trump Administration has chosen to declare war on energy-efficient light bulbs,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said in a statement. “This is but another dim-witted move that will waste energy at the expense of our people and planet. We are prepared to challenge this latest Trump backsliding which seemingly has no bottom.”

—Updated at 5:25 p.m.

Tags Department of Energy Rick Perry Xavier Becerra
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