The Energy Department’s Continued Attacks on Energy-Saving Light Bulbs Are Illegal

NRDC and partners are suing the agency for its refusal to update energy efficiency standards that would save U.S. consumers billions of dollars and spare the planet 38 million tons of carbon pollution annually.

Toby Talbot/AP via Shutterstock

NRDC, along with other environmental and consumer protection groups, is taking the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to courtagain—for its refusal to roll out commonsense energy efficiency standards for nearly every household light bulb sold in America as of this year. The coalition is now asking a federal court to force the agency to implement the standards, which would save U.S. households more than $100 annually, on average, and avoid 38 million additional tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide pollution every year.

“The Department of Energy seems dead set on keeping energy-wasting incandescent and halogen bulbs on the market despite the fact that many countries around the world have already decided to phase them out,” says Noah Horowitz, director of NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards. “The United States could soon become the world’s dumping ground for these incredibly inefficient bulbs.”

Set to go into effect at the start of 2020, the standards would have ended the sale of wasteful halogens and incandescents, which emit most of their energy as heat rather than light and burn out every year or two. LEDs, which are far more efficient, longer-lasting, and increasingly affordable, would become the norm (although CFLs also would meet the new standard of 45 lumens per watt). The average U.S. household has about 40 lighting sockets, and there are roughly 1.5 billion sockets across the nation that still contain an inefficient incandescent or halogen light bulb.


Defying 2007 bipartisan legislation, the DOE announced last year that it would not move forward with the law’s next phase, which required common household light bulbs to use 65 percent less energy than traditional incandescents.

In an earlier separate attack on household lighting, the DOE said it would also roll back the inclusion of multiple kinds of bulbs—such as three-way, flame-shaped, and reflector models made for recessed cans and track lighting—from the standards altogether. That decision, which was met by a similar coalition lawsuit, meant only the pear-shaped bulbs were due to be improved as of January 1, 2020.

“First, the agency cut the scope of the standards in half without any technical justification,” Horowitz says, “and then declared that they weren’t going to update the standards for the remaining ones—even though they were required to do so by law.”

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