How Many Politicians Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb? | Alliance to Save Energy
09/13/14 :

How Many Politicians Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

Installing efficient light bulbs is an incredibly cost-effective way to save energy.

Installing energy efficient light bulbs is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to save energy.   

Recognizing the huge potential for energy savings through simple light bulb upgrades, the U.S. Congress adopted energy efficiency standards for everyday light bulbs and established a timeline for a progressive phase-out of inefficient bulbs. President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) into law. The standards do not ban any specific light bulb type, but stipulate that light bulbs must use at least 25% less energy.

A Bright Idea

The changeover occurred gradually, giving manufacturers time to adjust their product lines, and in 2012 and 2014 the standards for the most commonly used bulbs took effect. The transition has been very successful, and new and improved halogen incandescent and LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs have entered the market and are widely available along with compact fluorescents lamps (CFLs).

As a result of the phase-out, the prices of the more efficient bulbs have dropped dramatically, and American consumers are reaping the benefits of lower electricity bills. And since newer, more efficient light bulbs tend to last longer, those savings will only continue to grow as the years pass by. With the new standards in place, U.S. households could save nearly $6 billion in 2015 alone. That’s the same as the cost of the 2012 election, or about thirty million iPhones. When all of the old light bulbs are replaced with these upgraded versions, the standards will save consumers $13 billion per year. Not to mention the avoided hazard of climbing on a kitchen stool to change the overhead light!

You might think this was a success story of progressive bipartisan lawmaking leading to meaningful market change. However, you would be wrong, because our politicians have once again let politics get in the way.

Politics Over Sense

For several years, an appropriations rider has been in effect that prevents the Department of Energy (DOE) from enforcing these new light bulb standards. That rider, authored by Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX), was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 and has been consistently extended by subsequent spending bills. Specifically, that amendment prohibits the Department of Energy (DOE) from using appropriated funds to implement or enforce the lighting efficiency standards in EISA. DOE has interpreted this rider as prohibiting it from enforcing the standard and from providing guidance to stakeholders on the implementation of the standard.

Through its tenure, this rider has created two areas of regulatory uncertainty, put American manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage, hampered industry-wide change, and now threatens to create even more regulatory disruption and limit consumers’ technology options. Continued extension of this rider will cause further harm and could cost American jobs.

This fall, in negotiations over a spending bill for fiscal year 2015 (FY2015), Congress will have yet another opportunity to do away with this rider and allow DOE to finally enforce the standards as they were enacted in 2007. The Alliance and other organizations urge lawmakers to set aside election-year partisanship, and instead let this common sense regulation be enforced.

Lack of Clarity

Due to a drafting error in the original statue, the exact parameters of the efficiency standards are unclear. The statute refers to the standards in two ways: “Maximum Watts” and “Maximum Rated Watts”. In the first instance, the standard is an absolute number. In the second, it allows for traditionally accepted manufacturing tolerances. The expense of manufacturing to an exact, absolute number is substantially greater than manufacturing to tolerances that would, for instance, allow for the occasional batch of bulbs to slightly exceed an absolute maximum.

The U.S. lighting industry, through the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, has sought clarification from DOE on this matter and has been advised that DOE cannot respond to any questions about the EISA standards due to the Burgess Amendment. Without clarity, companies may interpret the law differently, and potentially incorrectly, placing some in the situation of incurring significant costs to retool their plants should their products be found non-compliant.

Tier 2 Rulemaking

EISA requires the DOE to commence a rulemaking on a second set of standards for general service lamps (Tier 2) no later than January 1, 2014. DOE has recently expressed uncertainty about whether it can move forward with that rulemaking in the face of the Burgess Amendment.

This creates significant uncertainty because EISA mandates a “fallback” standard, which was inserted into the law to encourage compromise between stakeholders, that will require the specified light bulbs be no less than 45 lumens per watt (LPW) effective on January 1, 2020, if DOE does not issue a Tier 2 rule before then. If the 45 LPW minimum light bulb standard becomes rule by default, which will happen if the Burgess Amendment remains in force, U.S. manufacturers would likely lack the flexibility needed to include existing technology, like energy efficient incandescent bulbs utilizing halogen gases, in any future standards.

Manufacturers are left with a difficult choice: do they continue operating under the assumption that the Burgess amendment will be repealed and efficient incandescent bulbs will still be a viable option or do they plan on the “fallback” standard eventually taking over and abandon incandescent bulbs (and the plants that produce them)?

Market uncertainty will also have an impact on consumer choice. The current standards have allowed incandescent bulbs, in a more efficient form, to remain in stores. If industry uncertainty leads to a reduced emphasis on incandescent light bulbs, those products will disappear from the shelves. Ironically, continued extension of the Burgess Amendment will mean less choice of light bulb technology for American consumers — the very reason Rep. Burgess put forward for his amendment in the first place. 

Foreign Imports

The Burgess Amendment also places American lighting manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage, and therefore places U.S. jobs at risk. All of the major U.S. lighting companies support the enforcement of the technology-neutral efficiency standards. These companies have made major investments and thoroughly upgraded and retooled their supply chains to comply with the law; they have innovated and invested right here in America to make better bulbs and create domestic jobs. Several thousand U.S. jobs have been created by companies like GE in Ohio, Cree in North Carolina and Philips Lighting, who are producing the next generation of efficient light bulbs. Nationally, approximately 14,000 workers are employed in the energy efficient lighting sector, according to the Brookings Institution.

However, foreign manufacturers are not bound by the EISA standards and the lack of enforcement authority by DOE opens the door to illegal, less efficient imports. Without DOE guidance, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has no enforcement criteria for light bulbs and cannot prevent the import of these inferior and illegal products — placing law abiding U.S. manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.

Punch Line

Energy efficiency is America’s most affordable, cleanest and fastest way to save money on energy bills, drive innovation in manufacturing and create jobs. Sadly, rather than pushing smart workable polices that save consumers money and create jobs — such as the lighting standards — our politicians are pushing ideologically driven policy reversals using the appropriations process.

In this, the Burgess Amendment is only the tip of the iceberg. This year, in the House FY2015 Spending bill, Charlie Dent (R-PA) added an amendment in committee that would halt a congressionally mandated review of ceiling fan energy efficiency. Also buried in the House bill is language intended to weaken DOE’s ability to promote updated building energy codes. Buildings are the single largest energy end-use in the United States, accounting for about 40 percent of the total. Strong building codes are critical to cutting energy waste and lowering energy bills for American consumers.

This Fall, lawmakers must pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government running past October, and then they will hopefully turn to an omnibus spending bill after the election. Rather than engaging in partisan antics, lawmakers should allow full enforcement of the lighting standards and ensure robust funding for programs that advance what Americans broadly support — energy efficiency.