Week 137: Trump’s Light Bulb Rollback Takes Us Back to the 19th Century

Week 137: Trump’s Light Bulb Rollback Takes Us Back to the 19th Century

Plus, the EPA wants kudos for complying with a legal settlement, and another Trump official flees into the arms of an oil company.

Not So Bright

Back when George W. Bush was president and Barack Obama was a senator from Illinois, Congress passed an energy reform bill that included the phaseout of the inefficient incandescent light bulb. The reform made so much sense that even anti-regulatory diehards like Senators Jeff Sessions and Chuck Grassley voted for the bill, and the only real opposition came from those who resist regulation in any form.

The legislation wasn’t so much a bold step into the 21st century as a belated step into the 20th. Thomas Edison filed a patent for the incandescent bulb back in 1879, and it remained dominant and largely unchanged for more than 140 years, despite being preposterously wasteful. Up to 90 percent of the energy used by a traditional incandescent bulb generates heat rather than light, which is great if you’re trying to bake tiny cupcakes but not so good if you’re just trying to read a book in bed. The 2007 reform bill required gradual improvements in bulb efficiency, which spelled the eventual death of Edison’s bulb.

This week, the U.S. Department of Energy rolled back the standards, giving the incandescent bulb a reprieve that not even Edison’s family wants. It’s one of the most nonsensical decisions of the Trump administration, one that could cost the nation $12 billion in lost energy savings in 2025 alone.

It’s nonsensical, that is, unless you’re a light bulb maker. For them it makes a lot of sense. Incandescent bulbs burn out constantly, requiring consumers to keep investing in boxes and boxes of bulbs. Although LEDs are more expensive on a per-bulb basis, they can last for decades without forcing you to climb a ladder and burn the bejeezus out of your hand every few months. They also use a small fraction of the energy of an incandescent bulb for the same amount of light—savings that don’t mean anything to a light bulb manufacturer.

The Energy Department will open part of the rollback to a public comment period, but the Trump administration hasn’t proved to be the best of listeners. The last round of light bulb comments returned about 64,000 comments speaking out against the rollback, with only a small handful of people (plus light bulb manufacturers) supporting it. And yet, here we are.

So if you’re going to comment, open yourself a light bulb factory first. It’s the only way Trump will listen to you.

Credit Where Credit Isn’t Even Close to Due

The communications staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proved their utter shamelessness again this week. It all started back in June, when an EPA blog post quoted a Washington Post article that noted, “The Trump administration’s action [to protect pollinators] was welcome news to some environmentalists.” The EPA blogger, however, failed to mention that the EPA’s “welcome” action had come in response to a lawsuit that forced the agency’s hand.

The Center for Biological Diversity then filed a complaint under the Information Quality Act, which requires federal agencies to ensure the “quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity” of the information they give the public, and asked the EPA to correct the misleading blog post. The agency had, after all, quoted the newspaper out of context. Late last week the EPA refused, claiming that its blog doesn’t constitute an act of disseminating information. (Fair enough; you can’t really consider something so full of nonsense “information.”)

“I’m sorry these organizations are taking issue with the Washington Post and our actions to preserve and protect pollinators,” an EPA spokesperson said of the kerfuffle. Apparently, the PA in EPA now stand for “passive-aggressive.”

The World’s Fastest Revolving Door

As head of the Bureau of Land Management in the U.S. Department of Interior, Joe Balash had a top priority: opening Alaska up to more drilling. Among other bad ideas, Balash was front and center in the effort to bring oil drills into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was slipped into a tax bill in the dead of night. The legislative and regulatory work on the effort was so slapdash that even administration allies in Congress were questioning its legitimacy. Seven Republicans called the process inadequate and worried that it “could put the Arctic Refuge—the crown jewel of our National Wildlife Refuge System—in a vulnerable position to be exploited and destroyed.”

Balash left his post at Interior last Friday. On Tuesday, he confirmed that he was taking a job with Oil Search, a Papua, New Guinea–based company that is bent on drilling in Alaska. Balash claims that he was “gobsmacked” by the offer, that he has filed all the necessary forms with government ethics officials, and that he will refrain from directly lobbying the Interior Department on behalf of Oil Search.

This raises a question, though: What exactly is Balash going to do for the oil company? All of his expertise is in government. He worked as chief of staff for Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources before joining the Trump administration. He doesn’t appear to have a technical background, so he won’t be going out in a hard hat to operate a drill. One could guess the new senior vice president for external affairs will have a lot to do with, well, lobbying.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch.