Biden administration and EU Commission ban incandescent bulbs to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions

Light Switch

Biden administration and EU Commission ban incandescent bulbs to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions

(Robert Wiedemann/Unsplash)

On August 1, the Biden administration lightbulb legislation, years in the making, went into effect. Under the new rule, U.S. consumers can no longer purchase most incandescent light bulbs. Instead, those shopping for the household illumination products will light their homes with LEDs (light emitting diodes), a product that lasts on average between “25 and 50 times longer” than incandescents. Incandescent bulbs lose most of their energy through heat, not in actually providing light itself, making them far less efficient than low-heat LEDs.

The New Cost-Saving Energy Efficiency Standards for Light Bulbs “are projected to cut carbon emissions by 222 million metric tons” over the next 30 years, a White House press release stated. Lucas Davis, an energy economist at U.C. Berkeley, said transitioning from incandescents to LEDs “is like replacing a car that gets 25 miles per gallon with another that gets 130 m.p.g.” The Department of Energy said Americans could save up to $3 billion a year in utility bills under the new legislation.

The policy was first proposed in 2007 under the second Bush administration with the Energy Independence and Security Act, a measure which sought to “move the United States toward greater energy independence and security.” The Obama administration tried putting it into effect in 2009 and was met with severe pushback by conservatives. Post-2016, the Trump administration’s “Make Dishwashers Great Again,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s political gambit to halt the proliferation of electric stoves, and Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann’s “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act” all sought to counteract the federal government’s decarbonization program. 

The Biden administration revived the legislation on April 26, 2022, and it officially went into effect yesterday. The ruling is not an outright ban on incandescents. A New York Times article notes that bulbs commonly found in bug lights or ovens aren’t touched by it. The Department of Energy’s Full Enforcement Policy can be found here.

The legislation is happening in parallel to green building plans moving forward in Europe. In Germany, Economic Minister Robert Habeck proposed a “boiler ban” that would forbid “the installation of most oil and gas heating systems” by 2024—a decision that could face complications with the European Union’s single market policy, among other political pushback. Today, about 50 percent of Germany’s 41 million households rely on natural gas heating, Kate Connolly reported in The Guardian. The proposal, designed to help Germany achieve energy independence from Russia but also serving as a carbon emissions reduction scheme, was blocked in Germany’s highest court this past July.

As reported by Kate Wagner in AN last January, the U.S. Product Safety Commission tried imposing similar regulations on gas stoves after disturbing research came to light showing an empirical connection between gas heating, air pollution, and childhood asthma. The commonsense regulatory ban was easier said than done, however; that motion was squashed by conservative elected officials after a series of media cycles broke out politicizing the issue.

Meanwhile, the EU’s ban on incandescent bulbs goes into effect this September. Between 2023 and 2025, the European Commission will phase-out fluorescent and mercury-containing lamps, a move that could save $20 billion (18.2 billion euros) and eliminate 4,000 pounds (1.8 metric tons) of toxic mercury from circulation. 

The ban fits within the EU’s commitment to slashing its emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, and becoming “the first region to reach climate neutrality by 2050.” The White House has established similar benchmarks. The Biden administration’s goal is “achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and net zero emissions by no later than 2050.