President Donald Trump wants to roll back efficiency standards for light bulbs, at a cost to consumers of over $100 billion — some $1,000 per household — by 2030.
The Department of Energy (DOE) announced in the Federal Register that it has started a process to undo those standards, despite projections that they will prevent the release of 540 million tons of greenhouse gases and hundreds of thousands of tons of the pollutants that worsen asthma, cardiopulmonary disease, and premature death.
So, in the annals of Trump’s blinkered pursuit of undoing everything President Barack Obama did, no matter how basic or commonsense, this move ranks near the top.
The original DOE lighting standards were part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. They did not ban incandescent light bulbs, but instead encouraged innovation by requiring manufacturers to increase efficiency by 27 percent through 2014. It was a completely non-controversial bill that had bipartisan support, was strongly supported by light bulb manufacturers, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
But after Obama was elected and Republicans regained control of Congress, GOP leadership immediately went to work to undo the standards, continuing their longstanding opposition to federal energy-saving rules.
Nonetheless, the minimum standards established in the Bush law helped drive innovation in the United States and spurred an unprecedented revolution in super-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.
“The rapid adoption of LEDs in lighting marks one of the fastest technology shifts in human history,” Goldman Sachs stated in a 2016 report.
As recently as 2009, less than 400,000 common home LED bulbs had been installed across the country, according to a 2015 DOE report. And yet by 2012, 14 million LED bulbs had been installed in American homes. By 2014, that number had risen to 78 million.
This revolution has been driven by “sharp cost reductions and performance improvements, relatively short replacement cycles for incumbent technologies, and aggressive policy support (including bans on incandescent technology in major markets such as the U.S., the E.U. and China),” as Goldman Sachs detailed in a 2015 report.
From 2008 to 2014, prices for LED light bulbs dropped a remarkable 90 percent, and they have kept dropping. You can now buy a 60-watt-equivalent soft-wide LED bulb with a 10-year lifetime for a mere $1.
With the initial price dropping sharply while the ultra-low lifecycle costs also keep dropping, you end up with a revolution .
Before leaving office, the Obama Energy Department added one rule to build on this success. Whereas the original rule focused on the most widely used home lighting, starting in 2020, the new rule would apply the standard to bulbs for recessed lighting, candelabras, heavy duty fixtures, and others. These more expansive standards are what Trump is seeking to repeal.
This repeal would cost consumers $12 billion a year in 2025 — some $100 per household each year — according to analysis from The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. It would mean a stunning 540 million extra tons of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by 2030, according to research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The market has already spoken, and LEDs have won around the world. Trump cannot stop the global tide of innovation, but he can slow the penetration of efficient lighting in this country — at an enormous cost to the pocketbooks and health of consumers.