Shining an (Energy Efficient) Light into Congress’ “CRomnibus”

Shining an (energy efficient) light into Congress’ “CRomnibus”

Allison Donnelly for Zondits, December 11, 2014

Tuesday night, Congress pulled together its 1,600-page government spending bill, lovingly nicknamed the “CRomnibus” – a mix between the Continuing Resolution and an omnibus of budgets and various spending measures. Appropriations bills are notorious for containing dozens of “riders,” or small provisions tacked on in amendments that function as bargaining chips, and this one is no exception. A short sentence in Division D (Energy and Water Development) prohibits “funds to implement or enforce higher efficiency light bulb standards.”

Back in 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which was signed by then-President George W. Bush. The bill required common household light bulbs to be 25% more efficient by 2012‒2014 (among many other provisions). In the years following the bill, the provision was blasted as “banning incandescents” and a government encroachment on citizens’ rights. There was even an attempt to repeal the provision in 2011 in the “Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act,” sponsored by Texas Representative Joe Barton. The act was unsuccessful, and Congress tried another popular tactic: if you can’t beat it, defund it. A provision was tucked into the appropriations bill that year that banned the Department of Energy from using any funds for implementing the EISA requirement. That sentence has been stuck in appropriations bills every year since.

Regardless of the Congressional back-and-forth, manufacturers have complied with the requirements – the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), which includes 95% of US lighting manufacturers, was a supporter of EISA, and participated in several Congressional hearings. It also opposes the provision, because, as NEMA’s statement reads, blocking enforcement allows “bad actors to sell their noncompliant products in the US without fear of enforcement, creating a competitive disadvantage for compliant manufacturers.”

This time around, there’s an added problem: the provision also precludes the Department of Energy from updating the efficiency standards, which the department is already late in beginning. However, due to the small impact of the rider in the do-or-die appropriations bill (it must be passed in order to fund the government and stave off another shutdown), it won’t be removed when the bill is passed by the House today. The funding ban will go into effect for the next year unless Congress passes a bill overriding the language at some point, which is probably unlikely.