Share this Post:

unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Keeping Consumers In The Dark


    SIGN-UP for our latest news and action alerts:
   Please leave this field empty

Facebook Fans

Related Blog Entries

by Jonathan Wiener:
Unplugged: Why Won't Target Follow the Law?

Target has made headlines lately for its customer service debacle involving the launch of a designer line, but, unfortunately, the company’s woe...

by Raviya Ismail:
Unplugged: DOE Standards Will Save Americans Money

Thanks to action taken by the U.S. Department of Energy, American consumers are expected to save more than $21 billion (through 2043) on their utility...

by Jonathan Wiener:
Unplugged: Energy Guide vs. Energy Star

If you know the difference between the Energy Guide label and the Energy Star label, you are in better shape than many consumers, even many energy-con...

Earthjustice on Twitter

View Jonathan Wiener's blog posts
12 April 2011, 9:35 AM
FTC chips away at labeling rules for light bulbs—will Congress do more?

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it will delay a requirement for manufacturers to provide more detailed information on light bulb packaging. The commission also carved out an exception for inefficient 75-watt incandescent bulbs, which are being phased out in 2013. The best thing one can say about the announcement is that it could have been a lot worse.

This decision is a loss for consumers, but only a partial one. The new labels will still arrive next January, six months later than scheduled, but better late than never.

The major improvement of the new labels, at right, will be to make the costs of powering bulbs clearer. While the old labels contained information about energy usage, they did so by using wattage. An FTC study ordered by Congress revealed that consumers were interpreting watts as a measure of a bulb’s brightness.

But watts don’t measure brightness; lumens do. Using watts as a proxy for brightness made sense when most bulbs had the same incandescent design and tungsten filaments, generally converting energy to light at the same inefficient rate. But newer technologies like halogen incandescents, compact fluorescents and light-emitting diodes can produce far more lumens per watt, making watts a misleading measure of brightness.

After taking comments from all interested parties, FTC adopted new labels that feature estimated annual operating costs, based on use estimates and an average national electricity rate.

The new labels were due to arrive this July. But in December 2010, industry lobbyists asked FTC for a series of delays and exemptions from the rule, including

  • Six-month delay for all new labels
  • Additional 12-month delay for labels for the wide variety of CFLs on the market
  • Exemptions for incandescent bulbs too inefficient to meet federal standards taking effect in 2013 and 2014. (100-watt incandescents, which won’t comply with standards taking effect in 2012, were already exempt)

Earthjustice, on behalf of Public Citizen and Sierra Club, filed two rounds of comments with the agency opposing each of those requests. FTC’s announcement last week split the baby, granting the six-month delay but not the extra 12 months for CFLs, and exempting some inefficient incandescent bulbs but not others.

As I said at the beginning, this isn’t as bad as it could be. But some in Congress are trying to make it worse. Bills currently kicking around would repeal the light bulb sections of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the same law that ordered that FTC study I mentioned earlier. While the EISA light bulb efficiency standards have inspired the most, um, consternation, the bills also threaten to repeal the sections of the EISA that provide funding to issue and study the effectiveness of the new labels. 

Fortunately, such bills may just be stalking horses. After all, even the same industry lobbyists that pushed the FTC to weaken the labeling rule oppose them.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <p> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <blockquote>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.