THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S war on environmental rules has always been irrational. But the unreason hits a new peak in the Trump Energy Department’s campaign to save old, outdated, energy-wasting lightbulbs, to the benefit of no one except a handful of lightbulb manufacturers.
The Energy Department announced Wednesday two measures that will result in more greenhouse-gas emissions in the air and less money in consumers’ pockets. One would roll back an Obama administration effort to subject the full range of household lightbulbs to federal efficiency requirements. The other would defy Congress’s explicit instructions to ratchet up those requirements in 2020.
The Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which advocates stronger national efficiency programs, on Wednesday provided a sense of the potential cost: “Eliminating the 2020 standards for all light bulbs would cost US consumers up to $14 billion annually, which works out to more than $100 in lost bill savings every year per household. The rollback would increase annual climate-change emissions by about 38 million metric tons per year, or approximately the amount emitted by 8 million cars.”
True, many consumers would choose to buy better bulbs in the absence of federal standards. But how would killing the rules benefit them? Only by providing the option to buy Thomas Edison’s incandescent lightbulb, which uselessly dissipates as heat nearly all the electricity it gobbles up and requires constant replacement.
At one time, at the start of the transition off this fossil of a technology, one could argue that modern bulbs — particularly compact fluorescent bulbs — had drawbacks. Compact fluorescents tended to give off harsh, institutional white light. They did not turn on immediately. Disposing of them required care. But the technology has improved dramatically, particularly with the introduction of LED bulbs at mainstream prices. These bulbs last for ages, come in all shapes and sizes, and can give off any color light that consumers desire. Over time, the energy savings are profound.
That is why consumer groups and electrical utilities have fought the Trump administration’s effort to keep Edison-style incandescent bulbs on the shelves. In its rulemaking, the Energy Department acknowledged utilities’ and efficiency organizations ’ warning that they would have “to replace the lost energy savings either by building more power plants or by creating more utility programs around other products to achieve the savings through much less cost-effective means.” Those cheering the Trump administration, on the other hand, are a combination of anti-regulation zealots and lightbulb-makers.
If the courts do not stop the Trump administration, a more rational future administration will have the legal tools to reverse this nonsense; Congress mandated better bulbs in 2007 legislation, and it empowered the Energy Department to act. In the meantime, states should push along the transition toward more efficient bulbs. Four have already created standards of their own.