The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Energy Department to prolong the lives of incandescent lightbulbs

The rules, which roll back yet another standard, could cost $14 billion

A customer views LED lightbulbs for sale at a Costco store in San Antonio. (Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg)

The Trump administration Wednesday rolled back yet another Obama-era regulation. This time the Energy Department issued a final and a proposed rule that will prolong the life of certain old-fashioned — and energy-intensive — incandescent lightbulbs invented by Thomas Edison 140 years ago. The bulbs would otherwise have been effectively phased out by Jan. 1.

The rollback will mean $14 billion a year in higher energy costs and add to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

The Energy Department said phasing out the bulbs would be “a lose-lose for consumers” because of the higher cost of more efficient bulbs. And it said it would be “regulating these lightbulbs out of existence.”

“The Energy Department flat out got it wrong today,” Jason Hartke, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said in a statement. “Instead of moving us forward, this rule will keep more energy-wasting bulbs on store shelves and saddle the average American household with about $100 in unnecessary energy costs every year.”

Hartke also said inefficient lightbulbs were also “terrible for our climate.” He said the rule would require the electricity produced by 25 coal power plants “just to power wasteful bulbs.”

Saving energy used by lightbulbs was a goal set by Congress in 2007 when it adopted bipartisan legislation later signed by President George W. Bush. The law set high efficiency standards for lightbulbs, effectively moving the country toward more-efficient compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

On President Barack Obama’s last day in office, the Energy Department issued definitions that widened standards for general service lamps and general service incandescent lamps.

The final rule undoes that and the proposed rule would eliminate the 2020 standards for A-lamps, which are the commonly used pear-shaped bulbs.

The standards, while technical, affect approximately 3 billion — nearly half — of the bulbs currently in sockets in U.S. homes. They include three-way bulbs, cone-shaped reflector bulbs used in recessed and track lighting, candle-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers and sconces, and round globe-shaped bulbs used in bathroom lighting fixtures.

Fifteen states, New York City and the District of Columbia filed comments opposing the rollback and questioning whether the Energy Department had the authority to exempt certain products under the 2007 legislation. The group said repealing the Obama definitions “would unconscionably increase both greenhouse gas emissions and consumers’ energy costs.”

Four states, including California, Colorado, Washington and Vermont, enacted their own appliance standards.

During the Obama administration, conservatives made the lightbulb standards a rallying point for complaints about government interference. “Let there be incandescent light and freedom. That’s the American way,” radio commentator Rush Limbaugh said on a broadcast several years ago.

“This rule gives consumers the power to choose what lighting products best meet their needs,” the Energy Department said in a statement Wednesday. The statement conceded the incandescent bulbs that would have been barred “cannot meet the threshold efficiency level.”

The 2007 law doesn’t ban incandescent bulbs. It set energy standards, and some companies came up with ways to make incandescent bulbs that complied with some of the standards.

“It makes zero sense to eliminate energy-saving lightbulb standards that will save households money on electricity bills and cut climate change emissions,” Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said in a statement. “Instead, the Trump administration is siding with manufacturers that want to keep selling outdated, energy-wasting lightbulbs.”