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Even Thomas Edison’s great-grandson wants inefficient incandescent bulbs phased out

June 6, 2019
In The News

Even the great-grandson of Thomas Edison, popularly recognized as the inventor of the lightbulb, supports a government regulation that would lead to his ancestor’s creation being phased out.

Barry Edison Sloane, a descendent of the famous American entrepreneur, will join New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. Thursday to chide the Trump administration for rolling back lightbulb efficiency standards.

Existing regulations say lightbulbs sold after January would have to be about three times as energy efficient as the incandescent lightbulb credited to Edison, according to Andrew deLaski, president of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

The new federal standards were originally set in motion under the George W. Bush administration, and expanded beyond the classic "pear-shaped" bulbs to include other lightbulb shapes in 2017 under the Obama administration.

Incandescent bulbs would not necessarily be entirely barred under the new rules, but with the movement toward LED bulbs, lightbulb makers have largely stopped investing in making incandescents up to code, deLaski said.

"Incandescent bulbs performed a good service for over one hundred years, but it's time to move on," deLaski said.

The Department of Energy announced in February, however, that it would rescind the long-planned regulation after “reevaluating the legal interpretations underlying” the Obama-era standards. The change is in keeping with the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda.

Advocates for the standards hope the interest of Pallone, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, could generate momentum against the rule change.

Pallone held a hearing in March to address the recision of the lightbulb rule and other ways the Energy Department has punted on Obama administration regulations to increase the energy efficiency of household appliances. 

“Every day the Administration delays updating efficiency standards for these common household products, consumers’ electricity bills remain higher than necessary, and more electricity is unnecessarily generated to power these less efficient appliances,” Pallone said in a statement at the time. 

Pallone and Edison Sloane will deliver their remarks from the Thomas Edison Center in Menlo Park, the site Edison deemed his “Invention Factory.”

Edison Sloane's stance in favor of lightbulb efficiency puts him at odds with General Electric — the energy and appliances conglomerate his great-grandfather co-founded in the 19th Century.

GE, along with fellow lightbulb manufacturers such as LEDVANCE and Signify and their lobbying group, the American Lighting Association, make up the small coalition that supports the Trump administration's rollback, according to a May review of comments submitted to the Federal Register about the rule change by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. 

There’s an economic stake for the companies, as incandescent bulbs have to be replaced every a year or two, while LED bulbs can last up to 15 years. Lightbulb efficiency standards save households money on energy bills and lead to less greenhouse gas emissions, at the expense of lightbulb sales.

Proponents of the standards include both environmental advocacy groups like the National Resources Defense Council and major utilities like Duke Energy. 

While Edison is commonly recognized as the inventor of incandescent lightbulbs, patents by William Sawyer and Albon Man for the incandescent lamp predate Edison’s, according to the Energy Department's website. Edison’s operation eventually merged with the company manufacturing bulbs under the Sawyer-Man patent to form General Electric.