Michael Hiltzik: Trump's attack on lightbulb standards is his flimsiest environmental rollback yet

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Consider the lightbulb.

One of the lowliest electric devices in our homes and offices, the lightbulb revolutionized daily life after it was improved through Thomas Edison's innovations. It became so ubiquitous as to be barely noticeable, except when it burned out and had to be replaced.

Or when rules requiring bulbs to be more energy-efficient became the subject of attacks launched by Tea Party adherents starting in 2011.

Surely one of the more witless political causes of our time, the attack on lightbulb standards sure enough got taken up by President Trump, who in September proposed rolling back the efficiency mandate.

Among his complaints was that higher efficiency bulbs made him "look orange," that they were more expensive than traditional incandescent lights and that when they break, "it's considered a hazardous waste site. It's gasses inside."

On Nov. 4, the counterstroke came from California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, joined by his New York counterpart Letitia James and 13 other states, the District of Columbia and New York City.


They've sued to block Trump's action, which Becerra says would not only be illegal under federal law, but would "undermine state and local energy policy, and increase consumer and environmental costs."

Becerra didn't mention one other point of interest for California: The inventor of the most common efficient lightbulb technology used today is one of us. He's Shuji Nakamura, a tenured professor at UC Santa Barbara, who won the Nobel Prize in 2014 for his work on high-efficiency blue light-emitting diodes, the crucial components of today's LED lightbulbs.

In September, UC sued, Target, Walmart, Bed, Bath & Beyond and IKEA at the International Trade Commission for importing LED bulbs that allegedly infringe on patents held by Nakamura and two other UCSB professors. A companion suit was filed in federal court. Both actions are pending.

That brings us up to date on the latest formalities swirling around lightbulbs. Now let's look at the background.


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