Congress Takes Step Backward on Lamp Efficiency Enforcement in Spending Bill

Dec. 23, 2011
The 2007 law mandating stricter efficiency standards for lighting, which begins to take effect next month, is still the law of the land but the government

The 2007 law mandating stricter efficiency standards for lighting, which begins to take effect next month, is still the law of the land but the government will provide no funds for enforcing it through September, the end of the federal government's fiscal year, due to a rider on the onmibus spending package passed by Congress last week.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, Va., worked with various allies to develop the efficiency standards in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which was passed with bipartisan support and signed by then-president George W. Bush. NEMA has spent a lot of energy over the past year trying to dispel myths and misunderstandings about the law's impact. NEMA issued a statement last Friday raising its concerns about the move to defund the law's enforcement:

  • American manufacturers have invested millions of dollars in transitioning to energy efficient lighting as a result of the EISA 2007 provision. Delay in enforcement undermines those investments and creates regulatory uncertainty.

  • The inability of DOE to enforce the standards would allow those who do not respect the rule of law to sell inefficient light bulbs in the U.S. without fear of enforcement, creating a competitive disadvantage for compliant manufacturers.

  • EISA 2007 gave state attorneys general the authority to enforce the standards. A lack of DOE enforcement will create consumer confusion resulting from a patchwork of state enforcement and place manufacturers in an intolerable position due to uneven and potentially unpredictable enforcement.

Light bulbs have become a symbol for political activists who see the efficiency law as an issue of government over-reach restricting individuals' right to use the technology of their choice. Along the way, misconceptions about the EISA's impact have proliferated, especially the belief that the law bans incandescent lamps. In fact, due in large part to NEMA's involvement in crafting the 2007 legislation, EISA is essentially technology-neutral. It requires reductions of at least 28 percent in the energy consumption of lamps, beginning with 100W lamps on Jan. 1, 2012, and expanding to include 60W bulbs in 2014. The idea that it's a ban seems to arise from the fact that conventional incandescent lamps serve as the baseline for measuring the percentage efficiency gains. Incandescent lamps as such are still legal, certain kinds of special-use incandescent lamps are excluded from the legislation, and lighting manufacturers continue to produce new incandescent lamp models that satisfy the law's requirements.

Expressions of disappointment, if not disbelief, followed the inclusion of the enforcement-defunding rider, especially from energy-efficiency advocacy groups. Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, pointed to the impact on lighting manufacturers who have geared up to offer more efficient lighting options.

“Contrary to misinformation being spread by some lamp standard opponents, the standards do not ban incandescent lamps, but merely require incandescent lamps to be more efficient,” said Nadel. “Five manufacturers are now producing and selling efficient incandescent bulbs that meet the standards. With the new budget provision, the law is still in effect, but the Department of Energy cannot spend money to enforce it. Law-abiding companies will follow the law. Less scrupulous companies will take advantage of the lack of enforcement, selling products that waste energy and increase energy costs for consumers. If many manufacturers take advantage of the lack of enforcement, recent investments that these five manufacturers have made to produce efficient lamps could be undermined.”