White House to Relax Energy Efficiency Rules for Light Bulbs
The Trump administration plans to significantly weaken federal rules that would have forced Americans to use much more energy-efficient light bulbs, a move that could contribute to greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
The proposed changes would eliminate requirements that effectively meant that most light bulbs sold in the United States — not only the familiar, pear-shaped ones, but several other styles as well — must be either LEDs or fluorescent to meet new efficiency standards.
The rules being weakened, which dated from 2007 and the administration of President George W. Bush and slated to start in the new year, would have all but ended the era of the incandescent bulb invented more than a century ago. Eliminating inefficient bulbs nationwide would save electricity equivalent to the output of at least 25 large power plants, enough to power all homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to an estimate by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Trump administration said the changes would benefit consumers by keeping prices low and eliminating government regulation.
“The Energy Department flat out got it wrong today,” said Jason Hartke, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit coalition of business and environmental groups. Calling the move an “unforced error,” he said, “Wasting energy with inefficient light bulbs isn’t just costly for homes and businesses, it’s terrible for our climate.”
The actions are the latest by the Trump administration to weaken a broad array of rules designed to fight climate change. Last week it announced a far-reaching plan to cut back on the regulation of emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Earlier this year it proposed freezing antipollution and fuel-efficiency standards for cars, and tried to replace the Clean Power Plan, a signature emissions-reduction measure of the Obama administration.
President Trump has repeatedly dismissed the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity and requires urgent action to avoid its most dire effects, even as government scientists have warned about the damage that global warming is already causing the United States’ economy.
Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy, said the 2007 law requires the department to issue standards “only when doing so would be economically justified. These standards are not.” She added that the administration’s action “will ensure that the choice of how to light homes and businesses is left to the American people, not the federal government.”
The trade association for companies that make light bulbs applauded the Energy Department’s decision. In a statement, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association said Americans are already buying the more efficient bulbs and the final rule “will not impact the market’s continuing, rapid adoption of energy-saving lighting.”
The group estimates that by the end of 2019, as much as 84 percent of “general purpose” light sockets will be filled by LED and compact fluorescent bulbs.
Rapid technological change in the lowly light bulb has been one of the largely unsung success stories in the fight to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy consumption in American homes had been on the rise for decades. But that has reversed significantly in recent years, thanks in part to the growing acceptance of technologies like LED bulbs and compact fluorescents. Since 2010, energy consumption in American homes has dropped by 6 percent, according to Lucas Davis, an energy economist at the Haas School of Business, which is part of the University of California, Berkeley.
In 2007, Congress passed legislation to phase out inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs. As part of that process, the oldest incandescent technology had already disappeared from standard pear-shaped bulbs by 2014 in favor of “halogen incandescents,” which look the same but use less power.
Around that time, some conservative lawmakers and commentators turned the transition into a partisan dispute during the Obama administration, warning that the Democratic administration would force people to buy inferior bulbs. More recently, though, that notion of a partisan divide has faded, Professor Davis said. “LEDs are being sold in large volumes in all 50 states,” he said, not just blue states.
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LED bulbs show how seemingly modest shifts in technology can have a profound effect on people’s lives and wallets.
Two rollbacks were unveiled on Wednesday.
One would eliminate new energy efficiency requirements for pear-shaped bulbs that were supposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. The department is proposing a new rule that would end that requirement, subject to a 60-day comment period.
A second rollback targets rules that, next year, would have required adding several additional kinds of incandescent and halogen light bulbs to the energy-efficient group: three-way bulbs; the candle-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers; the globe-shaped bulbs found in bathroom lighting; and reflector bulbs used in recessed fixtures and track lighting. Under the Energy Department’s proposed plan, those requirements will be eliminated and sales of traditional incandescent bulbs for those purposes can continue.
The changes are likely to be challenged in court.
California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, said he would fight the administration’s action in court, calling the shift “another dim-witted move that will waste energy at the expense of our planet.”
Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We will explore all options, including litigation, to stop this completely misguided and unlawful action.” He said regulation remains necessary. “Energy-wasting incandescents and halogens still make up more than a third of new bulb sales,” he said.
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