Trump's Energy Department Swoops in to Save Us From the Tyranny of More Efficient Lightbulbs

A CFL bulb (right), a vintage-style incandescent bulb (center), and an LED bulb (left).
A CFL bulb (right), a vintage-style incandescent bulb (center), and an LED bulb (left).
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s administration has turned its malicious gaze towards energy-efficient lightbulb standards originally enacted during the Bush administration and finalized by the Obama administration, NPR reported on Wednesday.


In an announcement, the Department of Energy wrote that standards imposed in 2017 were composed “in a manner that is not consistent with the best reading of the statute” and that it has finalized a plan (proposed months ago) intended to roll them back. According to the Washington Post, eliminating those standards will mean that inefficient incandescent lightbulbs previously slated to be “effectively phased out” by the start of 2020 will continue to be manufactured and sold stores across the U.S., potentially costing billions of dollars in extra energy costs annually.

Per the Post, the Energy Department justified the decision with some mealy-mouthed mumbling about there being too many damn regulations:

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.”

Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes added in some gobbledygook about freedom in a statement to the New York Times, claiming that rolling back the standards “will ensure that the choice of how to light homes and businesses is left to the American people, not the federal government.” (The standards apply to companies manufacturing and importing lightbulbs and do not ban the purchase or use of incandescent lightbulbs; additionally, some efficient halogen and incandescent bulbs manage to meet the standards.)

According to the Times, the two rules that the Energy Department has proposed eliminating are the energy efficiency standards for pear-shaped bulbs set to kick in Jan 1., 2020, and another that would have required additional types of bulbs to meet that standard:

A second rollback targets rules that, next year, would have required adding several additional kinds of incandescent and halogen light bulbs to the energy-efficient group: three-way bulbs; the candle-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers; the globe-shaped bulbs found in bathroom lighting; and reflector bulbs used in recessed fixtures and track lighting. Under the Energy Department’s proposed plan, those requirements will be eliminated and sales of traditional incandescent bulbs for those purposes can continue.

Note that the Department of Energy’s own website notes that incandescent bulbs are actually more expensive for consumers than compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and light-emitting diodes (LED) due to the former’s “relative inefficiency and short life spans.” In another post on the department’s website, titled “Lighting Choices to Save You Money,” the agency noted that 90 percent of the power used by older-model incandescent bulbs is wasted as heat; it added that by switching just five lighting fixtures from older bulbs to Energy Star-certified bulbs, that average household could save $45 a year.

As the Times noted, while LED bulbs used to be expensive, adoption costs are now practically nil with costs falling to under $2 each. LEDs also last multiple years, making the switch pretty much a no-brainer.


Though the energy efficiency rules were signed into law by Bush and had bipartisan support, they became one of the many tiresome flashpoints for right-wing outrage during the Obama administration, with Republicans trying to paint the issue as socialist big government sticking it to the working man. That didn’t stick—the National Electrical Manufacturers Association told the Times that they estimate 84 percent of “general purpose” lighting fixtures will use CFLs or LEDs by the end of 2019—but apparently that Republican elephant never forgets a grudge.

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


Delaski told NPR, “Every time a consumer shifts to an LED, that lightbulb is going to last 10 years or longer. So the lightbulb manufacturers are trying to save technology that keeps the consumer coming back to buy another bulb every year, but still wastes a lot of energy.”

As the Times separately reported last month, Trump’s White House has either rolled back or is in the process of rolling back over 80 environmental regulations. Those range from standards limiting emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from power plants and fossil fuel infrastructure, to coal ash regulations and throwing out drilling restrictions.




Oh boy, but what about whale oil lamps?!