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Trump rolls back Obama-era regulations on energy-efficient light bulbs

Energy-saving light bulbs are the latest Obama-era environmental initiative to face a rollback by the Trump administration. The Department of Energy finalized a rule Wednesday that will block new federal efficiency standards for certain light bulbs from going into effect as scheduled in January. Critics say the rule change will lead to higher electricity bills and harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The new regulation withdraws requirements that three-way light bulbs and the specialty bulbs used in recessed lighting, chandeliers and other types of decorative fixtures meet higher energy efficiency standards.

"What's saved is not worth it, for the little they save, and what people were going through, it was not worth it," President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House Wednesday. "And price was another thing." 

The 2017 Obama regulations built upon a 2007 law passed during the George W. Bush administration that began phasing out the most inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs. That law, the Energy Independence and Security Act, led to an exponential increase in the adoption of energy-saving LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs over the last decade.

Consumer and environmental groups have warned that the Trump administration rollback could increase electrical costs for households across the country to the tune of $12 billion a year. Using less efficient light bulbs also generates more pollution, exacerbating the climate crisis

"The Energy Department flat out got it wrong today," said Jason Hartke, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. "Instead of moving us forward, this rule will keep more energy-wasting bulbs on store shelves and saddle the average American household with about $100 in unnecessary energy costs every year." 

The Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which works to advance environmentally-friendly standards for appliances, called the rule an "assault on common sense light bulb energy efficiency standards."

"It makes zero sense to eliminate energy-saving light bulb standards that will save households money on electricity bills and cut climate change emissions by reducing the amount of coal and gas burned in power plant," executive director Andrew deLaski said in a statement. "The Trump administration is siding with manufacturers that want to keep selling outdated, energy-wasting light bulbs."

Conservation groups plan to challenge the decision in court. 

"We will explore all options, including litigation, to stop this completely misguided and unlawful action," Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. "Given the worsening climate crisis, this is no time to significantly increase pollution and consumer energy bills just so a few lighting companies can make more money selling inefficient bulbs."

The Energy Department defended the rule, saying it is ultimately up to the consumer to make informed purchasing decisions. 

"This rule does not prevent consumers from buying the lamps they desire, including efficient options," it said in the ruling. "The market is successfully transitioning to LEDs regardless of government regulation."

Industry groups like the National Electrical Manufacturers Association have supported the decision. NEMA said it wants consumers to be able to choose which kinds of bulbs they want and said the rule "will not impact the market's continuing, rapid adoption of energy-saving lighting in the next few years."

This is just the latest effort by the Trump administration to eliminate Obama-era environmental protections. Last week, the administration announced plans to ease oversight of emissions of methane gas, a potent contributor to climate change. It has also announced plans to relax gas mileage standards, but major auto makers agreed to a separate deal with California keeping higher standards in place.

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