Five years ago, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which included a provision to phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs requiring 25% greater efficiency beginning in 2012.
Now as the start date for the bill looms, Republicans have attached a rider to the omnibus spending bill that would take away the Department of Energy’s ability to enforce the law and establish civil penalties for violating it. State attorney generals would instead be in charge of reviewing complaints and enforcing the law.
But the rider has caused an uproar in environmental organizations and industry groups that have been investing and preparing for the new standards, which, according to Kateri Callahan, president of Alliance to Save Energy, could save Americans $12 billion dollars annually in lighting costs and could reduce America’s emissions by the equivalent of 30 power plants or 14 million cars being taken off the road.
If the bill is successfully passed, Consumer Union’s Policy Counsel Shannon Baker-Branstetter said consumers should be careful when they buy light bulbs to check that the bulbs are as efficient as possible.
In a media call organized by an environmental lobbying group, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a group of stakeholders opposed to the rider emphasized that efficiency standards already exist for many appliances, including refrigerators, and that it is not unusual for federal standard to exist. Federal standards can ensure a competitive market in which manufacturers can produce standard products for consumers nationwide, they said.
National Electric Manufacturers Association (NEMA) VP of Government Affairs, Kyle Pitsor, emphasized that American light bulb manufacturers have to compete in the global market where more efficient light bulbs are increasingly in demand. For companies that have already poured millions into research and development to manufacture more efficient bulbs, removing compliance standards will be a serious blow.
On the flip side, encouraging more efficient light bulbs can spark renewed investment in energy efficient bulbs, making American companies more likely to develop bulbs even more efficient than the standards, Callahan said.
Jim Presswood, NRDC’s Federal Energy Policy Director said he was most upset by the legislative approach Republicans were taking.
“Riders are not the way to legislate,” he said. It’s “all being stuck in a larger bill without having the chance for larger debate.”
He said he was confident that with fair open debate on the issue, Americans would realize that higher efficiency bulbs could only help them save money and would in no way limit their choices.
But, Callahan said, politicians have used the light bulb as a sticking point because its something everyone has “more than one” of in their homes.
“[It's] easy to latch onto that and make a larger debate,” she said, but there “remains a very broad bipartisan support for energy efficiency.” She said she is hopeful that when “things settle down a bit,” manufacturers can get back to improving lighting efficiency.