- The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday took two actions that will impact efficiency standards for a range of light bulbs on the market, which will waste energy and cost billions of dollars according to consumer advocates.
- In a final rule, DOE reversed a 2017 decision to expand the types of general service lamps (GSL) covered under stronger standards. And in a proposed determination, the federal agency concluded that new standards for general service incandescent lamps (GSIL) — a subset of GSLs — are not economically justified.
- The Natural Resources Defense Council indicated it may challenge the rules in court, and considers them illegal "rollbacks." DOE officials say they are not rollbacks, and simply align definitions and regulations for light bulbs with existing law.
DOE has come under fire from environmental and energy efficiency advocacy groups, who say the agency is rolling back energy conservation standards.
But a senior DOE official, briefing the press on background Wednesday morning, challenged that framing, saying the final rule is not a rollback because the changes "pertain only to a definition and [the rule] does not alter any standards."
The distinction is important, because DOE cannot reverse course on energy efficiency standards.
As for the proposed determination for A-lamps, incandescent reflector lamps, globe lamps, and candelabra lamps, "more stringent standards for these lamps are not economically justified," the official said.
Without DOE's proposed change in definition, the standards would increase the price of GSIL lamps by almost 300%, leaving the cost burden on American consumers and businesses, according to DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.
"More stringent standards would make GSILs so expensive that no one would buy them — and likely, no one would manufacture them either — regulating these lightbulbs out of existence," the senior official explained during Wednesday's press briefing.
DOE says it undertook the proposed determination on GSILs because it was required by statute to consider whether "the exemptions for certain incandescent lamps should be maintained or discontinued."
Regarding GSILs, two years ago, in the late stages of the Obama presidency, DOE moved to broaden the range of bulbs that must comply with a set of energy efficiency standards, set to go into effect next year, by publishing final rules that amended statutory definitions to include virtually all incandescent lamps as GSLs.
The second phase of standards would increase savings for a typical household by about $180 per year by 2025, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP). That's due to more bulbs being covered and so-called "backstop" standards that efficiency advocates say were triggered when DOE missed a key deadline without setting a standard.
Congress included the backstop to push manufacturers towards a long-term efficiency target of at least 65% to 70% energy savings.
In DOE's proposed determination, the agency takes the position that the backstop provision does not apply because DOE never determined whether to amend energy conservation standards for general service lamps.
"By statute, GSILs are a subset of GSLs. Statute requires DOE to issue standards only when doing so would be economically justified. These standards are not," Hynes said in a statement.
Congress took "initial bipartisan steps" to transition to energy-efficient lighting by 2020, according to Jennifer Amann, buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. But advances in LED bulbs, along with decreases in retail prices, "have outpaced the expectations."
"Now is the time to complete this long-anticipated transition by moving forward with a minimum standard," Amann said.
DOE officials say concerns are overstated because the majority of bulbs in use will still be more efficient LEDs. The bulbs which DOE determined not to apply new standards to, account for "a small slice of the market," the senior official said. "Well over 80%" of sales will still be LEDs.
Efficiency advocates say that misses the point.
“It makes zero sense to eliminate energy-saving light bulb standards that will save households money," ASAP Executive Director Andrew deLaski said in a statement.
NRDC is considering a legal challenge.
"We will explore all options, including litigation, to stop this completely misguided and unlawful action," Noah Horowitz, director of NRDC's Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said in a statement. "Today's action sets the United States up to become the world's dumping ground for the inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs being phased out around the world."
Comments on the DOE's proposed determination regarding standards for A-lamps are due in 60 days.