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States, green groups challenge rollback of Obama-era lightbulb rules

States, green groups challenge rollback of Obama-era lightbulb rules
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Separate coalitions of states and environmental advocacy groups sued the Department of Energy (DOE) Monday, challenging a decision to eliminate energy efficiency standards for nearly half the lightbulbs on the market.

Fifteen states and a coalition of seven environmental and consumer groups are fighting the rule, arguing it will hasten climate change as utilities crank out more electricity to power inefficient bulbs.

“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,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who spearheaded the suit, said in a statement.

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“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.”

The controversial rule erases Obama-era efficiency standards for lightbulbs, keeping in place rules for standard pear-shaped bulbs, while removing such requirements for recessed lighting, chandeliers and other shapes of bulbs.

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. That translates to more than an $100 a year added onto the average consumer bill.

In addition to New York, the suit was filed by California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia and the city of New York.

At the heart of the challengers’ arguments is a “backsliding” provision of the law that prohibits adopting weaker energy efficiency rules.

“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 with the Natural Resource Defense Council, which led the suit on behalf of the advocacy groups. 

“It’s not only illegal to backtrack on energy efficiency standards, the United States will become the dumping ground for the inefficient incandescent and halogen models already banned in Europe and being phased out by countries around the world.”

Outgoing Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryIs Social Security safe from the courts? Trump, Biden set for high-stakes showdown President Trump faces Herculean task in first debate MORE 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."

DOE did not immediately respond to request for comment, but when the rule was first announced in September, the agency argued the move will have little effect 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.”

Incandescent bulbs still constitute about 45 percent of the market.

Lawmakers also pushed back against the rollback in October, asking Perry in a letter not to follow through with it.

“These rollbacks are indefensible, both in terms of their costs to consumers and their contravention of Congressional intent,” senators wrote in a letter spearheaded by Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOcasio-Cortez says having Green New Deal would have helped handle COVID-19 pandemic OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes MORE (D-Mass.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenGOP coronavirus bill blocked as deal remains elusive Justice indicts two members of ISIS 'Beatles' cell ISIS militants expected to be sent to US for prosecution: report MORE (D-N.H.). “These standards protect consumer budgets and the climate.”