DOE Rolls Back Energy Efficient Lightbulb Ban

lightbulbs int the sky

On September 5, the U.S. Department of Energy rolled back a scheduled  January 1 ban on four classes of incandescent and halogen light bulbs—though the agency states it could still later address whether the products fail to meet energy conservation standards and should be banned.

Numerous environmental groups, state attorneys general and utility companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric are crying foul, but the DOE says it’s doing nothing wrong under its interpretation of the law and the agency’s responsibilities.

On January 19, 2017, the day before President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the DOE under the Obama administration issued rules to amend the definitions of “general service incandescent lamps” (GSILs) and “general service lamps” (GSLs) to include certain categories of incandescent lamps that had initially been excluded by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 for consideration of a ban due to energy inefficiency.

The agency, now under the Trump administration, claims that the 2017 rules did not establish, “or even purported to establish,” energy conservation standards for the revised definitions. As such, the agency is now withdrawing the 2017 revised GSL and GSIL definitions that would have taken effect on January 1, 2020, because the definitions “included certain GSILs as GSLs in a manner that is not consistent with the best reading of the statute.”

This means that manufacturers in 2020 can continue to sell three-way, candle-shaped used in chandeliers and sconces; reflector bulbs used in recessed cans and track lighting; and the round globe bulbs typically used in bathroom lighting fixtures. 

When the DOE announced in February that it was considering the withdrawal of Obama administration’s revised definitions, the agency said it had then received numerous comments claiming that the withdrawal would trigger the statute’s backstop: If DOE fails to complete a rulemaking in accordance with the law or a final rule from the first rulemaking cycle does not produce savings greater than or equal to the savings from a minimum efficacy standard of 45 lumens per watt (LPW), the statute provides a “backstop” under which DOE must prohibit sales of GSLs that do not meet a minimum 45 LPW standard beginning on January 1, 2020.

But in last week’s announcement, the DOE contends that the backstop was not triggered because the agency under the Obama administration had not established energy conservation standards for its revised definitions of GSLs and GSILs.

“DOE believes that the best reading of the statute is that Congress intended for the Secretary to make a predicate determination about GSILs, otherwise it could result in a situation where a prohibition is automatically imposed for a category of lamps that the Secretary may conclude is unnecessary,” the agency wrote last week.

“Since DOE has not yet made the predicate determination on whether to amend standards for GSILs, the obligation to issue a final rule by a date certain does not yet exist and, as a result, the condition precedent to the potential imposition of the backstop requirement does not yet exist and no backstop requirement has yet been imposed,” the DOE wrote.

However, the agency added that it would need to address the backstop in a future rulemaking, “should the Secretary make a determination that standards in effect for GSILs need to be amended.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council contends DOE’s lifting of the ban on the four classes of “highly wasteful” incandescent and halogen bulbs is “senseless and illegal.” The environmental group also chastised the agency’s decision not to require tougher energy-saving standards on “everyday pear-shaped bulbs.”

The group will “explore all options, including litigation, to stop this completely misguided and unlawful action,” said Noah Horowitz, director of the council’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards.

Other environmental groups also weighed in, including the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

“In 2007, Congress took initial bipartisan steps to transition to energy-efficient lighting by 2020 with the support of lighting manufacturers, consumer and environmental advocates, and the Bush administration,” wrote Jennifer Amann, ACEEEs buildings program director. “Advances in LED bulbs—including vast decreases in retail prices—have outpaced the expectations set in 2007. Now is the time to complete this long-anticipated transition by moving forward with minimum standards that lock in energy bill savings and pollution reductions to benefit all Americans.”

In addition to environmental groups, a number of state attorneys generals “will undoubtedly consider legal challenges to today’s actions,” Amann said. Already, several states—California, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont and Washington—have enacted state light bulb standards in anticipation of the federal rollback, she said.

About the Author

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than three decades of experience writing about the construction industry, and her articles have been featured in the Associated General Contractor’s Constructor magazine, the American Fence Association’s Fencepost, the...

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