Energy Efficiency

DOE issues proposal tied to definition of general service lamps

The Department of Energy is proposing to withdraw the definitions of general service lamps established in 2017, a move that a DOE official recently told a congressional hearing will lower regulatory uncertainty by making clear that the sale of several lamp types will continue.

The DOE on Jan. 19, 2017 published two final rules adopting revised definitions of general service lamp (GSL), general service incandescent lamp (GSIL) and other supplemental definitions, effective January 1, 2020. 

“DOE has since determined that the legal basis underlying those revisions misconstrued existing law,” the agency said in a pre-publication proposed rule. In the proposed rule, the DOE therefore proposes to withdraw the definitions established in the Jan. 19, 2017 final rules.

DOE is proposing to maintain the existing regulatory definitions of GSL and GSIL, which are the same as the statutory definitions of those terms, it said.

The DOE said that it developed its proposal after re-evaluating its legal interpretations underlying the two January 2017 definition final rules and considering comments, data, and information from interested parties that represent a variety of interests.

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA) established the Energy Conservation Program for Consumer Products Other Than Automobiles, a program covering most major household appliances, which includes GSLs.

The DOE said that maintaining the statutory definitions of GSIL and GSL would ensure that only those lamps intended by Congress to be GSILs and GSLs would be subject to energy conservation standards.  “DOE welcomes comment regarding this proposed change in scope to the definitions of GSIL and GSL and the consequences of such change.”

With respect to the applicability of EPCA’s anti-backsliding provision, the DOE noted that the first of the two January 2017 definition final rules was explicit in stating that it did not make a determination regarding energy conservation standards for any type of GSL. 

“The definition final rule was unambiguous in maintaining that it constituted a decision on whether to maintain or discontinue various lamp exemptions based, in part on lamp sales and determining that certain types of lamps should be included as GSLs because they are used for lighting applications traditionally served by GSILs,” the proposed rule said. The final rule “stated clearly that it ‘does not determine whether DOE should impose or amend standards for any category of lamps, such as GSILs or GSLs.’”

While the DOE acknowledged that a likely consequence of including additional lamps in the definition of GSL is that those lamps would be subject to energy conservation standards, it “made clear in the rule that it was not undertaking the statutory analysis required to develop an energy conservation standard,” the proposed rule said. “DOE was only determining which lamps to include within the scope of GSLs, a precursor to any standards development for GSLs.”

In the proposed rule, the DOE notes that it is precluded from amending an existing energy conservation standard to permit greater energy use or a lesser amount of energy efficiency.

The DOE said that the proposed rule “cannot possibly constitute the amendment of an existing energy conservation standard to permit greater energy use or a lesser amount of energy efficiency” given that:

  • The proposal is considering withdrawing two final rules that DOE stated explicitly were not energy conservation standards;
  • The DOE was previously prohibited by an Appropriations Rider from making a determination regarding the need for amending standards applicable to GSILs; and
  • the DOE never finalized a March 2016 proposed rule concerning establishing energy conservation standards for GSLs.  

DOE official says proposal reduces regulatory uncertainty

In testimony submitted for a March 7 House hearing on efficiency standards, Daniel Simmons, the DOE’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, commented on the DOE’s proposed rule to maintain the existing statutory definition of general service lamps and withdraw the definitions established in January 2017. The hearing was held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy Subcommittee.

“This proposal reduces regulatory uncertainty by making clear that the sale of several lamp types (that is, light bulbs) will continue, including certain halogen A-line lamps, incandescent reflector lamps, globe lamps, and candelabra lamps,” Simmons said in the testimony. “Millions of households use these light bulbs every day, and the Department recognizes the importance of access to reliable and affordable options that meet their needs, as well as the importance of consumer choice generally.”

Simmons said in the prepared testimony that maintaining the statutory definitions “provides manufacturers and retailers with the regulatory certainty that they are not prohibited from selling hundreds of millions of bulbs. At the same time, DOE will continue to advance cutting-edge research and development of next-generation lighting technologies to drive further improvements in efficiency and affordability.”

In response to a question from Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., Simmons said that the DOE is not rolling back any standards through its proposal. “What there has been is a change in definition,” the DOE official said.

Simmons said that consumer preference for light bulbs is trending towards LED bulbs with or without the proposed change.

Parties can comment on the DOE proposed rule

The DOE is accepting comments, data, and information regarding the proposed rule. The deadline for those submissions is April 12 and comments can be submitted here.

A public meeting on the proposed rule was held on Feb. 28 at the DOE’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.