Energy & Environment

DOE announces another lightbulb efficiency rollback

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In its latest move to roll back energy efficiency measures, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced Friday that it would block a measure designed to require more efficient lightbulbs, arguing the policy would be too expensive for consumers. 

The announcement applies to widely-used, pear-shaped incandescent lightbulbs. Coupled with another controversial rule finalized in September, the move cements two remarkable decisions taken by the department this year to hamstring efficiency requirements for nearly every type of bulb used in America.

The announcement follows earlier messaging from the department that market forces, and not the government, should guide consumer choices.

“Today the Trump Administration chose to protect consumer choice by ensuring that the American people do not pay the price for unnecessary overregulation from the federal government,” Brouillette said in a statement. “Innovation and technology are already driving progress, increasing the efficiency and affordability of light bulbs, without federal government intervention. The American people will continue to have a choice on how they light their homes.”

Blocking the standards flies in the face of congressional intent, critics say, citing a 2007 act signed into law by President George W. Bush that requires all everyday bulbs to use 65 percent less energy than regular incandescent bulbs, which currently constitute about half of the bulb market.

Friday’s announcement follows a September decision from DOE to remove energy efficiency requirements for the other half of the market — bulbs that are not standard shaped, including those for recessed lighting and chandeliers.

In both cases, the agency has hung its reasoning on finances, arguing American consumers shouldn’t be stuck paying more for bulbs.

But consumer protection groups and environmentalists have widely panned the measures, saying consumers will be stuck with a higher electric bill spurred by inefficient bulbs, while utilities produce more pollution in an effort to power them.

“The Trump administration just thumbed its nose at Congress, America’s families and businesses, and the environment,” Noah Horowitz, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said in a release. “This law should have saved U.S. households more than $100 annually, on average, and avoided 38 million additional tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide pollution every year. NRDC will be exploring every option, including legal action, to fight this illegal rollback.”

The incandescent bulbs targeted in Friday’s announcement, first invented by Thomas Edison, use just 10 percent of their energy to create light, while the other 90 percent is released as heat.

“You wouldn’t use a phone from the 1870s, so why use Edison’s 1870s light bulb,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Advocates argue the law would push more Americans to buy LED bulbs, which often cost more at the store but use less electricity to run. DOE has repeatedly pointed out that market forces are already pushing Americans to buy LEDs without any prodding from the government. 

But critics fear the U.S. is about to become a dumping ground for incandescents, following regulations in the European Union and some developing countries to block their sale.

Friday’s decision also follows another recent effort to roll back efficiency measures: a November proposal to allow faster-cleaning dishwashers to duck current energy efficiency standards.

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