The Department of Energy has decided to preserve choice in half the U.S. lighting market, not restrict Americans to light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
In a proposed rule published in the Federal Register today, DOE said Americans can choose to buy halogen, incandescent, compact fluorescent and LED bulbs for their specialty lighting fixtures instead of adhering to an interpretation of the law that would eliminate all incandescent bulbs by January 2020.
Forbes first reported this development in February in How Many Administrations Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb Rule.
DOE’s Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Alex Fitzsimmons, told Forbes this week, “Consumers can still purchase LEDs. What we are doing is allowing consumers to choose from a wider range of options.”
“Preserving consumer choice does not harm consumers, period,” he said.
At issue are several 2007 amendments to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 and subsequent interpretations of the statute, which DOE says were illegal, including a final rule which was approved January 19, 2017, one day before President Trump took office.
In its February Notice of Proposed Rulemaking DOE said that under the Obama rule Americans would be left with two options for residential lighting by 2020—LEDs and compact florescent lights (CFL). The CFLs comprise about 6% of market share, a share that continues to dwindle year over year.
Parties responded to the NOPR. This week DOE made its determination.
“We withdrew the final rules that were published on the final day of the previous administration which expanded the definition of a general service lamp lightbulb beyond statute, which is not consistent with what Congress intended … and we decided not to amend standards for incandescent light bulbs because DOE’s robust economic analysis found that more stringent standards would not be economically justified,” Fitzsimmons said.
“DOE is only authorized to increase standards when doing so would be technologically feasible and economically justified. That is in statute. Our rigorous economic analysis shows increasing standards on incandescent lightbulbs would not be economically justified because consumers would not be able to recover the cost of their investment because more stringent standards would make these lightbulbs 300 percent more expensive,” Fitzsimmons said. “More stringent standards would effectively regulate incandescent light bulbs out of existence and DOE is not in that business.”
Jennifer Amann, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s Buildings Program Director, said DOE has preserved for Americans a “false choice.”
DOE is giving the consumer a choice “to purchase a product that’s going to cost them more and that they’re going to have to replace more often, and that is going to put out significantly more pollution emissions and carbon emissions that will then impact that consumer, their family and all of the other citizens in the country,” Amann said.
At stake is a nearly $44 billion lighting market and 6 billion sockets to fill in households across America. Environmentalists want a government mandate to drive the market while manufacturers want consumers to decide which type of bulb they want.
An ACEEE study shows the initial purchasing price of LEDs is higher than the purchasing price of similar lower-efficiency incandescent bulbs, but the inefficient bulbs would cost more in electricity use.
For example, an LED globe bulb costs $3.30 and lasts 10 years. The incandescent equivalent costs less–$2.47 per bulb–but because of the need to replace them more frequently, it would cost a consumer $12.35 over a decade.
The electricity cost for the incandescent would be $32.27 over 10 years while the electricity cost for the LED equivalent would be $3.23.
Amann said because of DOE’s action today, half of the bulb market will continue to include inefficient incandescent bulbs.
Not Fair, Not Far Enough
Fitzsimmons’ office has been vigilant about transparency and outreach with environmental groups.
Last month, he and Christine Harbin, a DOE senior advisor for the Trump administration, organized a meeting of energy efficiency policy leaders, including several from ACEEE, to discuss ways to transform various segments of the sector.
Notwithstanding, environmental groups incensed by Thursday’s rule are threatening to sue the Trump administration.
In a written statement, Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We believe DOE’s proposals are unlawful, and NRDC will pursue litigation as necessary to ensure the standards are implemented and enforced. We have no further comment at this time regarding our specific litigation plans, which are under development.”
Most likely it would be the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice leading a suit. But other environmental groups, like ACEEE, and state attorneys general would support the effort, Amann said.
The litigation strategy–precise grounds on which they would sue, in what court they would file a complaint, and which organizations would sign on as plaintiffs—is unclear.
However, in their May 2019 comments to DOE on its rulemaking, attorneys general from 15 states—New York, California, Oregon, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Washington State, Minnesota, Maryland, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan–and the District of Columbia told the Energy Department what it has done is “contrary to law, undermines [Energy Policy and Conservation Act] EPCA’s legislative intent, and would unconscionably increase both greenhouse gas emissions and consumers’ energy costs.”
Industry Aligns With DOE
In an on-air interview with Airtalk’s Larry Mantle, Clark Silcox, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s general counsel, said DOE has finally gotten it right. Obama’s DOE “exceeded its legal authority” in its broader reading of the statute.
Silcox said DOE unlawfully broadened the statute to phase out incandescents in three-way bulbs, candle-shaped bulbs for chandeliers, globe bulbs for bathroom lighting, and reflector bulbs for recessed lighting.
When Mantle asked why specialty bulbs that represent half of the lighting market shouldn’t be covered by the standards, Silcox replied, “DOE has the authority to do something like that just not in this rulemaking that Congress authorized in 2007.”
“That’s what the nub of the dispute is about,” Silcox said.
Silcox said, “We do not believe this action will impede a narrowly complete transition to LED or solid-state lighting. The market transformation has been moving very rapidly without government regulation and it will continue.”
NEMA said 2018 third quarter data shows LED bulbs account for about 65% of the consumer lamp market, followed by halogen incandescents, which account for about 28% of the market.
“By the end of 2015, traditional incandescent lamps were virtually gone from store shelves and manufacturers were no longer shipping those lamps,” NEMA said in its December 2018 blog.