November 22, 2019

Trump Against the Lightbulbs

“Last Wednesday, the Trump administration announced its plan to roll back efficiency standards for lightbulbs. This would halt the slow-moving process of phasing out inefficient incandescent and halogen lightbulbs in favor of LEDs, through legislation that was passed with bipartisan support in 2007 under George W. Bush and has widely been considered successful by basically everyone except the people who make the old lightbulbs. LED lighting is credited with reducing household energy consumption, a reduction that’s only expected to continue as we swap more bulbs. It’s a largely painless change for consumers—the new bulbs last much longer, and we can all hope that someday American innovation will solve the new bulbs’ distinctive coloration problem. In other words, the lightbulb is no straw, or, at least, it hasn’t been.

There’s no guarantee the announced rollback will happen—the new plan is likely to be challenged in court. That’s happening to a lot of Trump’s deregulation policies, because, as Richard L. Revesz has persuasively argued in Slate, the Trump administration has been consistently sloppy in its legal reasoning, a pattern that has undermined its ability to implement its preferred policies. Still, the lightbulb maneuver and a variety of other moves in recent weeks make it clear that the administration is still willing to fight on all environmental policy fronts, regardless of the eventual outcomes.

In late August, the Trump administration released its plan to roll back methane emission regulations. Methane is second only to carbon dioxide in terms of the damage it does as a greenhouse gas. As with lightbulbs, the new plan targets a policy that has been relatively popular—even some major energy companies don’t support Trump’s proposed rollbacks. This set of dynamics also echoes the ongoing battle over car emission regulations that unfolded this summer—the Trump administration would like to lower those too, and again, the car companies they are designed to benefit have taken up arms against the rollbacks. That’s because certain states with very large car markets, most notably California, already have higher efficiency standards, and splitting the market would make things more complicated for car manufacturers. Uncertainty is actually a bigger enemy for automakers than tight regulations—it’s more expensive for them to be constantly adjusting in response to changing standards than to just know what to expect and to be able to plan for it. And who would have predicted that, in the year 2019, anyone would be advocating to make car emissions standards less aggressive, rather than more?”

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