New Efficiency Standards Could Mean the End for Compact Fluorescent Lights

Published March 25, 2016

The compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) may soon be extinct, thanks to a new rule imposed by the Department of Energy (DOE) that increases energy efficiency standards for light bulbs.

On February 12, DOE increased the energy-use-per-lighting-output efficiency standard for light bulbs by an amount CFLs are unable to meet. The decision came less than two weeks after General Electric had announced its plans to discontinue the production of the company’s line of CFLs due to poor sales.

Unless there is a breakthrough in CFL technology, industry analysts say CFLs will soon become extinct.

Recent Lighting History

A provision in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) set new efficiency requirements for light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs were unable to meet the new standard, which meant traditional incandescent light bulbs were supposed to be phased out. The standard was to begin applying to traditional 100-watt bulbs in 2012, reaching 60- and 40-watt bulbs in 2014.

At the time the law was passed, DOE touted two expensive alternatives to the widely used incandescent light bulb: CFLs and light emitting diodes (LEDs). Legislators who supported the lighting efficiency standards in the 2007 law said the energy savings for consumers would more than make up for the higher purchasing prices of CFLs and LEDs.

Critics of the provision said the new regulations were unwarranted and another example of the federal government forcing consumers to use politically favored technologies. Critics also said the lighting industry favored the law because it believed at the time it would benefit from halting production of inexpensive incandescent bulbs and moving to CFLs and LEDs, which have higher profit margins.

Each year since EISA passed, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), who fought the DOE light bulb provision when it was first proposed, has included appropriations riders to spending bills barring DOE from enforcing its standards for incandescent bulbs. As a result, consumers can still purchase incandescent bulbs, though no domestic manufacturer makes them, which means all incandescent bulbs sold in the United States today are imported. Burgess’ rider does not cover the new CFL standard. 

CFLs Out of Favor

A report by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), says CFLs have a number of problems. NCPA says the bulbs contain mercury, requiring a lengthy, multi-step cleanup process when the bulbs break. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, when a CFL breaks, calls the room must be aired out, air conditioning systems must be turned off, and the bulb’s broken pieces must be sealed in a glass jar.

Absent legislative action, DOE’s proposed lighting efficiency rule would seem to leave LEDs as the last domestically manufactured bulb standing.

Efficiency Standards

Burgess proposes to expand consumer choice by ending DOE’s authority to establish energy efficiency standards for consumer products. Burgess’ Energy Efficiency Free Market Act of 2016 would do away with government efficiency standards on consumer products. The bill would repeal the part of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act that grants authority to DOE to set efficiency standards for a host of products, including light bulbs.

Burgess says the U.S. Constitution protects against the kind of federal government overreach exhibited by the burdensome regulations contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act.

“The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution was meant as a limitation on federal power,” said Burgess. “It was never intended to allow the federal government to micromanage [widely used] consumer products that do not pose a risk to human health or safety.”

Burgess says his legislation would effectively repeal sections of the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act that give DOE authority to set efficiency standards on many consumer products, including battery chargers, ceiling fans, computers, furnaces, HVAC systems, and televisions.

“This legislation eliminates the overreaching arm of the federal government that continues to force itself into the household of the American consumer,” Burgess said. “When the market drives the standard, there’s no limit to how rapidly manufacturers can respond when consumers demand more efficient and better-made products.”

Ann N. Purvis ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.