Trump administration might undo Obama-era LED light rules

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Mike Mozart/Flickr

If you’ve gone looking for an incandescent lightbulb in the last few years, you probably had a hard time finding one — and for good reason! Those bulbs are far less energy efficient, far more wasteful, and often more expensive in the long run than their LED successors. Another change to light bulbs designed to improve energy efficiency was set to happen soon, but the Trump administration may prevent the plan from moving forward.

During President Barack Obama’s second term, his Department of Energy decided to extend a George W. Bush-era rule that encouraged a move to LEDs and other energy-efficient options. Under the department’s rules, specialty fixtures — large, decorative globes found in bathrooms, candle-shaped lights, recessed lighting, etc. — would also have to move away from incandescent bulbs. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are about 2.7 billion such light sockets in the U.S., so the change would have a significant impact on energy consumption in many homes.

However, the Trump administration believes that in issuing that rule, the Department of Energy overstepped its authority. That view is backed by the lighting industry, which has argued that the law was never intended to be applied to specialty bulbs. The Department of Energy under Trump has adopted this view as well and has issued a proposal that would reverse the agency’s previous position. That would allow makers of specialty lighting to continue to produce inefficient and often wasteful bulbs for the exempt lighting fixtures.

The decision to overturn the rule won’t come without protest. Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told NPR that the decision would generate “about 25 large coal-burning power plants’ worth of extra electricity.” It’s expected that environmental groups will challenge the Department of Energy’s rollback of its own law and the courts will decide the legality of the action.

While the battle plays out in court, consumers and businesses may make the decision unnecessary. LED bulbs are quite popular and some major retailers have moved away from less efficient alternatives. Ikea announced in 2011 that it would stop the sale of incandescent bulbs in favor of the more environmentally friendly LEDs.

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