NRDC Sues Over Energy Dept.’s Illegal Refusal to Update Light Bulb Energy-Saving Standards

NEW YORK – The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today asked a federal court to force the U.S. Department of Energy to implement updated energy-saving standards for nearly every household light bulb sold in America. The government’s repeated, illegal defiance of a 2007 law requiring that new bulbs offered for sale be more efficient as of the start of this year will raise consumer utility bills and worsen the carbon pollution driving climate change.

“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,” said 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, which increase Americans’ energy bills and lead to millions of tons of additional carbon pollution every year.”

The stronger light bulb efficiency standards envisioned by a bipartisan Congress more than 12 years ago would save the average U.S. household more than $100 annually and prevent 38 million additional tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide pollution from being emitted every year. The average U.S. household has about 40 lighting sockets and there are roughly 1.5 billion sockets nationally that still contain an inefficient incandescent or halogen light bulb, which give off most of their energy as heat and burn out every year or two, illustrating the need for improved efficiency standards.

This is the second time in less than four months that NRDC and other environmental and consumer groups have sued the Department of Energy (DOE) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit over the agency’s lighting decisions. The lawsuit filed today challenges DOE’s “final determination” announced late last year not to go forward with improved efficiency standards as of Jan. 1, 2020, for the bulbs that fill roughly 6 billion U.S. sockets.

In the earlier case, the groups opposed DOE’s illegal reversal of a rule expanding the types of bulbs required to become more energy efficient as of Jan. 1, including three-way, candle-shaped, and globe-shaped versions that fill almost half of the household sockets in the United States. Today’s lawsuit addresses the traditional pear-shaped bulbs that fill almost all the remaining ones.

“The Energy Department has attacked the light bulb efficiency standards with a one-two punch that puts at risk the up to $14 billion a year of utility bill savings consumers were due to receive,” Horowitz said. “First, the agency cut the scope of the standards in half without any technical justification, 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.”

Joining NRDC in the lawsuits are Earthjustice (representing the Sierra Club, Consumer Federation of America, and Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants); the U.S. Public Interest Research Group; and Environment America. In addition, a group of states led by New York and California, plus the city of New York and the District of Columbia, filed similar lawsuits in the same court. The ongoing sales of energy-wasting incandescent bulbs could create the need to generate an additional 30 large (500 MW) power plants’ worth of electricity every year. The standards would have required all everyday bulbs to use 65 percent less energy than conventional incandescent bulbs. Today’s affordable LED bulbs—which come in all common bulb shapes, sizes and lighting hues—more than meet that energy-savings level.

For a state-by-state breakdown of the energy bill costs from DOE’s lighting decisions, see:



President George W. Bush in 2007 signed bipartisan legislation to phase out inefficient incandescent and halogen light bulbs by Jan. 1, 2020. The first tier of standards (phased in between 2012 and 2014) required light bulbs to use 25 to 30 percent less energy than old-style incandescent bulbs. The second tier was due to become effective in 2020, requiring everyday light bulbs (called general service lamps under the law) to use about 65 percent less energy.

The Trump DOE has repeatedly failed to meet its statutory requirements to update standards for other products—having now missed 21 deadlines, as well as 19 for efficiency test methods. It also recently adopted changes to its Process Rule that will make it more difficult to establish and update future standards despite the $2 trillion in savings the program has delivered to consumers and businesses to date.  


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at


Related Issues

Related Press Releases