Consumer groups estimate that the reversal of tighter standards, which stem from a bipartisan 2007 energy law, would boost energy costs by $14 billion a year and will generate 38 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. The Natural Resources Defense Council said the regulatory rollback could boost consumption by an amount equal to the output of 30 large power plants.
“Today the Trump Administration chose to protect consumer choice by ensuring that the American people do not pay the price for unnecessary overregulation from the federal government,” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said. “Innovation and technology are already driving progress, increasing the efficiency and affordability of lightbulbs, without federal government intervention. The American people will continue to have a choice on how they light their homes.”
The new ruling affects pear-shaped bulbs and a range of other forms of lighting, including 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.
The regulatory rollback would probably benefit the makers of GE, Sylvania and Philips brand bulbs. GE has been seeking a buyer for its GE Lighting unit. The Dutch conglomerate Philips has been spun off as a separate entity called Signify. And Sylvania’s lighting operations were sold to a consortium including Chinese banks that renamed the lighting business Ledvance.
Saving energy used by lightbulbs was a goal Congress set 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.
But during the Obama administration, conservatives made the lightbulb standards a rallying point for complaints about government interference. Neither incandescent nor halogen bulbs met the requirements set to take effect Jan. 1.
The Energy Department said in its analysis that bringing traditional incandescent bulbs up to the higher efficiency standards would triple the cost of bulbs. “This increase is not economically justified because the bulbs do not last long enough for the energy savings to surpass the higher upfront price,” the Energy Department said in a statement.
But environmental and consumer groups said the administration failed to accurately consider the savings from LED bulbs that give off the same amount of light and can be purchased at roughly the same price. The typical LED bulb generates the same amount of light with a quarter of the energy used by an incandescent one, according to Noah Horowitz, who directs NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, saving consumers $25 to $50 over the course of its life.
Andrew deLaski, president of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said consumers can buy a 60 watt-equivalent incandescent bulb at Home Depot for 97 cents and a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb for just $1.24. Yet about half of the bulbs in use in U.S. homes are still traditional incandescent bulbs.
The conservative National Center for Public Policy Research praised the administration’s decision, lauding it for “preserving the simple Edison lightbulb” first invented 140 years ago.
“Thank you for preventing regulation that would have made this staple too expensive for today’s families,” the center’s president, David W. Almasi, said.
Five states — California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington and Vermont — have enacted standards identical to the Obama-era ones, which will take effect Jan. 1. Two lighting associations are suing to try to block California’s new lightbulb requirements from taking effect.
Environmentalists and several attorneys general, for their part, are already suing over an earlier move by the administration to scale back federal lighting standards. They plan to challenge Friday’s move as well.
“This is up to the courts, but we’re pretty confident the courts will do the right thing,” Horowitz said.