Latest DOE Attempt to Save Inefficient Bulbs Makes No Sense

In an ill-advised and illegal action, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced today it will proceed with rolling back energy-saving standards for everyday light bulbs. The rollback will lead to higher bills and increased pollution.

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In an ill-advised and illegal action, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced today it will proceed with rolling back energy-saving standards for everyday light bulbs. The rollback will lead to higher energy bills for homes and businesses, plus significantly more pollution harming our health and the environment due to all the extra electricity that will need to be generated.    


The decision comes almost 12 years after President G. W. Bush and Congress passed legislation to phase out inefficient incandescent and halogen light bulbs by 2020, which would have cut consumer energy bills by billions of dollars and prevent millions of tons of carbon pollution.

Without any sound technical, economic, or legal justification, DOE said today it will delete the updated definition published in 2017 that brought several types of everyday light bulbs into the scope of this regulation. As a result, the billions of reflector bulbs in recessed cans and track lighting, the candle- shaped bulbs used in chandeliers and sconces, three-way bulbs, and round globe bulbs used in bathroom vanities will no longer have to meet the 2020 energy efficiency standards for light bulbs that should have gone into effect.

In addition, DOE announced its intention (via a notice of "proposed determination") not to update the efficiency standards as ordered by Congress back in 2007 for the bulbs that remained within the scope of the definition, such as the ubiquitous pear-shaped bulbs used throughout our homes. Bottom line: DOE is hell-bent on blocking the lighting energy efficiency standards from going into effect as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2020, despite the fact that yesterday’s bulbs are so much less energy efficient than the new LED bulbs that could replace them.

That means that the Trump administration has rolled back energy-saving standards for the bulbs going into the billions of sockets in our homes. Together, these bulb actions could cost the average U.S. household more than $100 per year, adding $14 billion to Americans’ annual energy bills as of 2025, and require at least 25 power plants’ worth of extra electricity annually.

Today’s announced rollback is unlawful because it violates the “anti-backsliding” provisions that prohibit the Energy Department from weakening existing standards. NRDC will explore all options, including litigation, to defend these critically important lighting efficiency standards. 

DOE is moving forward with its proposals despite that fact that almost 64,000 comments were registered against the rollback of the four categories of bulbs filling almost half—2.7 billion—U.S. sockets: three-way, recessed can, candle-shaped, and round bulbs. Among those in opposition to the rollback were 37 major electric utilities serving 55 million customers in 42 states and the District of Columbia. The only support came from a few people who oppose regulations in general, five lighting companies, and their trade association. Do you suppose that’s because they make more money on incandescent bulbs that burn out every year or two than from the longer-lasting, energy efficient bulbs that would have been required as of January 1? 

Meanwhile, DOE said today it will take comments for 60 days on its proposed determination not to update the standards for the regular pear-shaped bulbs and hold a public meeting Oct. 15. 

Although energy efficient LED bulb sales are skyrocketing, the reality is that incandescents and halogens still represent around 45 percent of all new light bulb sales in the United States. Many consumers continue to buy them because of their slightly lower costs, not considering the $25 to $100 energy bill savings over an LED bulb’s long lifetime, depending on the bulb selected and local utility rates.

Efficiency standards would ensure that every bulb purchased in the future is an efficient one. This is particularly important to low-income families hit hardest by high electric bills and for those in high-poverty areas who might only be able to shop at small neighborhood stores, which are less likely to stock LEDs.

Incandescent bulbs using technology dating back to the days of Thomas Edison (and which waste up to 90 percent of their energy as heat) served us well for almost 140 years, but it’s time to move on to energy-saving LED bulbs, which are widely available in all shapes and brightness levels. California already phased out general service incandescent bulbs, commonly known as the everyday pear-shaped bulbs, as of Jan. 1, 2018, and until today—the rest of the country was on track to do the same as of this coming Jan. 1, as well as phase out virtually all incandescent and halogen bulbs due to their inefficiency.

Who is for and against this rollback?

Why is the Trump administration working so hard to keep the obsolete and economically harmful incandescents and halogen light bulbs on the market? The answer is two-fold: To satisfy the anti-regulatory ideology that runs across this administration’s actions, and to ensure that the big lighting companies like GE, Philips, and Sylvania can keep selling us outmoded incandescent and halogen bulbs. Its noteworthy that each of the aforementioned companies, as well as their trade association NEMA, sent in written comments to the DOE strongly supporting the national rollback for the four categories of bulbs. (Go here to search for their comments.)

Things would surely change in a hurry if the manufacturers had to pay for all the wasted energy and pollution caused by their inefficient bulbs.

It’s also ironic and perplexing that the global trade association for many of these lighting companies, the Global Lighting Association (GLA), and Signify (new company name for Philips Lighting) endorsed a model regulation developed by the United Nations to completely phase out incandescent and halogen lamps sold in developing countries. That means that while these companies are doing the right thing by being supportive of phasing out incandescents sold in Africa, the Middle East, and South America, they are working to make sure they can keep selling obsolete bulbs in the United States. Note: Despite efforts by the lighting industry to delay the standards in Europe, all 27 European Union countries successfully completed their transition away from incandescent and halogen bulbs in 2018!  

You would think the Trump administration would want to ensure the United States doesn’t become the world’s dumping ground for inefficient bulbs that add billions of dollars to consumer and business utility bills. The administration can’t even try to claim that this rollback is to help America’s workers as virtually all of the inefficient bulbs are produced in places like China, Mexico, and Hungary. In contrast, there are thousands of U.S. jobs related to the development of LED bulbs and production of the chips and LEDs that go into them.

Regardless of today’s action, everyone should swap out any remaining incandescent and halogen bulbs for energy-saving LEDs. The average U.S. household has around 40 sockets, so you’ll not only save money, you will be contributing to national energy savings that really add up and help in our fight against the climate crisis.     

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