Trump's repeal of light bulb standards will increase pollution, cost billions

Trump's efficiency rollback will cost Americans billions and pollute widely

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published February 17, 2019 10:00AM (EST)


The Trump administration plans to roll back efficiency standards for light bulbs in a move that is projected to pump millions of tons of pollution into the atmosphere while costing American families billions.

The Department of Energy said in that it plans to undo two rules that were put in place in the final days of the Obama administration, which expanded the types of light bulbs subject to stricter efficiency standards under a George W. Bush-era law. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required manufacturers to increase efficiency of home lighting by 27 percent within seven years, Reuters reported. The Obama administration expanded the law to apply the standards to other types of lighting.

The proposal would remove three-way bulbs, candle-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers, reflector bulbs used in recessed lighting, and others from having to comply with the new efficiency standards, which were set to go into effect next year.

“DOE has since determined that the legal basis underlying those revisions misconstrued existing law,” the agency said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

Environmental groups warned that the move would cost Americans billions more in electricity bills while pumping millions of tons of greenhouse gases and pollutants into the atmosphere.

Noah Horowitz, the director of the National Resources Defense Council’s center for energy efficiency standards, said in a statement to Reuters that the move would add $12 billion in additional electricity costs -- about $100 per household per year -- by 2025.

“This is another senseless and illegal Trump administration rollback that will needlessly hike our energy bills and spew tons more pollution into the air, harming the health of our children and the environment,” he said.

“Even with today’s highly efficient LED light bulbs on the market, Trump’s Department of Energy wants to keep 2.7 billion of our lighting sockets mired in a world of dinosaur, energy-guzzling lighting technology that basically hasn’t been updated for more than a hundred years,” the statement added.

The move would also add 540 million added tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2030, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Since the beginning of the Obama administration, the number of homes with LED bulbs installed has skyrocketed from under 400,000 homes in 2009 to 78 million homes in 2014, according to the Energy Department. During that time, the prices of LED bulbs fell by 90 percent.

Goldman Sachs noted in a 2015 report that the adoption of LED lighting was driven by “sharp cost reductions and performance improvements, relatively short replacement cycles for incumbent technologies, and aggressive policy support (including bans on incandescent technology in major markets such as the U.S., the E.U. and China).”

Despite the energy and cost efficiency of LED light bulbs, the Trump administration appears to be acting at the behest of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which The Hill reported sued the federal government over the rule but later withdrew their lawsuit when the Trump administration agreed to review the rule in 2017.

“There aren’t many people out there clamoring for outdated light bulbs that use four or five times as much energy,” said Alliance to Save Energy President Jason Hartke. “Consumers have moved on and embraced high-efficiency bulbs like LEDs because prices are plummeting and because they’re getting a better-performing, longer-lasting product that saves them money.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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