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Biden administration to phase out inefficient lightbulbs championed by Trump

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The Department of Energy instituted two new rules Monday that will require manufacturers to sell only energy-efficient lightbulbs, such as compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

The DOE said the move will save consumers money on their electricity bills, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to climate change. It will also spell the end for incandescent bulbs, which were championed by former President Donald Trump.

“By raising energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs, we’re putting $3 billion back in the pockets of American consumers every year and substantially reducing domestic carbon emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “The lighting industry is already embracing more energy efficient products, and this measure will accelerate progress to deliver the best products to American consumers and build a better and brighter future.”

Energy saving compact fluorescent lightbulb surrounded by old incandescent bulbs.
Energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulb surrounded by older incandescent bulbs. (Getty Images)

The department estimates that the more efficient bulbs will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 222 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. That’s comparable to the annual emissions of roughly 28 million U.S. households.

The rule will apply to manufacturers on Jan. 1, 2023. Retailers will have an additional seven months to sell out their remaining supply of incandescent bulbs.

Although LED bulbs have been growing in popularity, 30% of the lightbulbs sold in 2020 were less efficient incandescent or halogen incandescent. Those models waste most of the energy they use as heat.

Technically, rather than specifying which type of bulbs are sold, the DOE is simply banning the sale of bulbs that produce less than a certain amount of light for each unit of electricity. However, the once standard incandescent bulb will not meet that criterion.

types of light bulbs
Getty Images

“These changes have definitely been a long time coming,” Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, an energy policy think tank, told the Washington Post. “What this means is that all consumers, no matter where they shop, will have access to a range of efficient LED choices that’ll save them money, light up just like the bulbs they replace and last 10 times longer. That’s welcome news with energy prices going up.”

The finalization of the lightbulb regulations is the latest twist in a partisan tug of war that has been going on for years. The rules were first drafted at the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, then withdrawn by the DOE during the Trump administration.

The regulations stem from a 2007 law — passed by wide margins in both houses of Congress and signed by President George W. Bush — setting goals for phasing out incandescent bulbs. That law was co-authored by Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Jane Harman, D-Calif. Right-wing opposition to the measure threatened to prevent Upton from being elevated to the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 election. In order to mollify critics in his party, Upton pledged to revise the law upon taking the chairman’s gavel. (The GOP Congress defunded enforcement of the law, but it remains on the books.)

An old incandescent bulb
An incandescent bulb. (Getty Images)

When the rules were rolled back under Trump, the Natural Resources Defense Council predicted that would increase emissions by the equivalent of 30 large power plants.

Trump defended his opposition to more efficient bulbs in 2019 by noting that LED and compact fluorescent bulbs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs and complaining that the light cast by efficient bulbs is “no good.”

“I always look orange,” he complained.

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