On February 11, 2019, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a proposed rule rescinding a rule issued at the end of the Obama Administration expanding the number of general use light bulbs defined as "general service lamps" (GSLs) and therefore subject to minimum energy efficiency standards. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, GSLs—the category that includes everyday light bulbs used in residential applications—have been subject to steadily increasing minimum efficiency standards over the last ten years.
The looming application of a "backstop" provision of the EISA will mean that only GSLs that meet a minimum energy efficiency standard of 45 lumens per watt (LPW) may be sold after January 1, 2020. Because no incandescent or halogen light bulbs currently meet the minimum standard, incandescent and halogen GSLs will have to be taken off the market in ten months. This sets up maneuvering over what, if any, light bulbs can be exempted from minimum standard by being excluded from the GSL category.
In a January 2017 final rule, the Obama DOE decided that certain types of light bulbs should no longer be excluded from the GSL category. Basing its decision on whether these bulbs provided general illumination and were "readily substitutable" for standard light bulbs, DOE ended the exemptions for rough service bulbs, shatter-resistant bulbs, three-way incandescent bulbs, high lumen bulbs, vibration service bulbs, reflector bulbs, certain T-shaped bulbs, and certain candelabra bulbs. It did so, it said, to prevent these types of bulbs from "provid[ing] a convenient unregulated alternative to [bulbs] that [are] subject to energy conservation standards." In other words, the Obama DOE acted to ensure that once the 45 LPW standard goes into effect in January 2020, manufacturers cannot evade the standard by marketing increased numbers of reflector, rough service, three-way and other previously exempted bulbs.
Under new leadership, the DOE has now proposed to rescind the Obama-era rule. It argues that the EISA dictates a separate regulatory process for the first five types of bulbs, and that categorizing them as GSLs would subject them to duplicative and potentially conflicting regulations. It argues that the EISA should be interpreted to specifically exclude reflector bulbs from the GSL category. Finally, it argues that the Obama DOE overstepped its authority in designating certain T-shaped and candelabra bulbs as GSLs based on whether they provided general illumination and could be substituted for GSLs, because "it is unlikely Congress intended that DOE have broad discretion to regulate an incandescent lamp out of existence based on an assumption that manufacturers could make and sell an LED version of the lamp or that Congress authorized DOE to eliminate 'convenient unregulated alternatives.'"
When finalized, this rule will have the effect of allowing these eight categories of incandescent and halogen bulbs to be sold even after the minimum efficiency standards go into effect in 2020. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy argues that this rollback will "cost consumers billions of dollars," or an average of $100 per household per year in increased electricity costs, pointing out that "[n]early three billion sockets in US homes contain these types of bulbs, including globe-shaped ones, reflectors, and candelabras." The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, on the other hand, says that the Obama Administration overstepped its mandate under EISA, and that the market should be trusted to eliminate inefficient light bulbs from general use.
The public comment period for the proposed rule was scheduled to close on April 12, 2019, but has been extended to May 3, 2019.