Your chandelier could be Trump’s next regulatory rollback target

Ari Natter
Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — The day after Energy Secretary Rick Perry was sworn into office, the Washington trade group representing major light bulb manufacturers reached out.

A rule finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration expanded to specialty light bulbs the efficiency standards that effectively phased out the traditional incandescent bulb. American jobs and consumer choice were on the line, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association wrote in a March 2017 letter to Perry opposing the expansion.

The Trump administration appears poised to oblige the group. A proposal undergoing White House review aims to reverse the Obama administration’s decision to expand stringent energy-use requirements to bulbs used in track and recessed lighting, bathroom vanities and decorative fixtures such as chandeliers, according to an Energy Department document.

“It’s a dying technology, but they want to keep it alive for as long as possible because it’s very profitable,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, an arm of the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “They like to sell these incandescent light bulbs because the customer has to keep buying them.”

The Energy Department’s proposal comes as the Trump administration has refused to implement energy-efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, air compressors and commercial packaged boilers, as well as “uninterruptible power supplies.” That led to a court ruling requiring the agency to move forward with the standards, which is being appealed by the administration.

Requirements that manufacturers make everyday products more efficient was an integral part of former President Barack Obama’s plan to address climate change. The roughly 50 standards finalized during his tenure are estimated to save consumers $550 billion in utility bills and keep 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to about 800 coal plants running for a year, out of the atmosphere, according to government data.

The Trump proposal would reverse the previous administration’s move to effectively require the specialty light bulbs to be several times more efficient, on grounds the Obama administration “misconstrued existing law.” At issue is whether Congress meant to shield those types of bulbs from the regulation, or whether they fall under the definition of “general service lamps” as the Obama administration contended.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, whose members include General Electric Co., Osram Sylvania Inc. and Signify NV, didn’t respond to requests seeking comment. The group supported the original requirements that went into effect in 2012 and has opposed Republican efforts to block them.

Shaylyn Hynes, an Energy Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on grounds the agency “does not comment on ongoing rulemakings beyond what is publicly available in the Unified Agenda published twice a year.”

If the expanded light bulb standards go into effect they would by 2025 save $22 billion in household energy bills, avoid the carbon dioxide emissions of 13 million cars and save roughly the amount of electricity generated by 45 large coal-fired power plants in a year, according to deLaski’s group.

In its letter to Perry, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association said the Obama administration had added certain kinds of light bulbs that Congress expressly said were not among the types that could be regulated.

“The regulations impermissibly rewrite statutory language to achieve an outcome that Congress did not intend, and they purport to be an exercise of agency discretion where statutory discretion does not exist,” the group wrote.

The light bulb regulations are the second stage of an energy policy signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007 that effectively phased out the traditional incandescent light bulb while becoming a symbol of government overreach to the far right. A second part of the law requires the Energy Department to develop stricter standards for 2020 and determine which size and shape of light bulbs should be covered under the new regulations.

If the Energy Department failed to move forward with those standards, a “backstop” provision in the law mandated that standards requiring a long-term energy efficiency target of as much as 70 percent savings would go in effect, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

Under the Obama administration, the Energy Department contended that backstop had been triggered, while the National Electrical Manufacturers Association says it hasn’t.

“In all likelihood this thing is headed for litigation,” deLaski said.


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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): Rick Perry