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U.S. Energy Department Rejects Obama-Era Light Bulb Proposal

February 20, 2020
By Kevin Stone

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the current standards for general service incandescent light bulbs are sufficient and do not need to be amended.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the current standards for general service incandescent light bulbs are sufficient and do not need to be amended.

President George W. Bush signed the first national light-bulb standard in 2007. In January 2017, on his last day in office, President Barack Obama proposed stricter efficiency standards for light bulbs and expanded those standards to include additional classes of incandescent bulbs, such as three-way, flame- or candle-shaped, and globe-shaped bulbs.

Shortly after President Donald Trump took office, his administration placed a hold on the stricter standards, and now DOE has decided to reverse them.

‘To Protect Consumer Choice’

DOE analyzed the Obama-era proposal and determined the expanded and stricter standards would result in consumers paying 300 percent more for replacement bulbs emitting equivalent amounts of visible light, or lumens.

DOE acted to let consumers decide what light bulbs they want to use, said Secretary of Energy Danny Brouillette in a December 20, 2019 press release accompanying the decision.

“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,” said Brouillette. “Innovation and technology are already driving progress, increasing the efficiency and affordability of light bulbs, without federal government intervention. The American people will continue to have a choice on how they light their homes.”

Cost Increase Outweighs Benefits

The 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act prohibits DOE from prescribing amended efficiency standards unless they will result in significant conservation of energy, are technologically feasible, and are economically justified.

In determining whether the benefits of a proposed standard exceed its costs, the statute requires DOE to consider seven factors, such as the economic impact on consumers and manufacturers and the savings in operating costs over time compared to any immediate price increase. After assessing those factors, DOE determined the increase in cost to consumers of the standards proposed by Obama outweighed any benefits resulting from stricter standards.

DOE also found market factors are already driving a move to more-efficient light sources. Under the existing standards, the average cost of light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs has dropped by nearly 90 percent since 2008, and total installations of home LEDs has increased from 100,000 to nearly 202 million, the DOE notes. DOE concluded the trend toward more efficient lighting will continue without federal mandates.

‘Decreased Consumer Choice’

Protecting consumers’ freedom of choice of light bulbs was the right decision, says Merrill Matthews Jr., a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.

“Allowing cheaper incandescent bulbs to remain on the market will keep downward pressure on the price of competing LED bulbs, making both more affordable,” Matthews said. “While the Obama rule would have likely increased light bulb costs for consumers, that’s not the only consideration.

“It would have also decreased consumer choices,” said Matthews. “Many consumers feel LED lights are a bit harsh and prefer the warmer light of incandescent bulbs. They should have that option.”

Kevin Stone (kevin.s.stone@gmail.com) writes from Dallas, Texas

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Energy Environment