WASHINGTON (CN) – As part of a broad-based push on planetary warming, President Barack Obama announced new light bulb standards Monday following close on the House’s narrow passage of a sweeping energy bill that would sharply cut production of greenhouse gas. Announcing the standards, Obama said the nation must choose between prosperity or “a slow decline.”
Currently, seven percent of energy consumed in the United States goes towards lighting. Obama said increasing the efficiency of light bulbs will save Americans $1 to $4 billion each year between 2012 and 2042, and will save enough energy over a 30 year period to power every American home for up to 10 months.
He outlined plans for the White House to lead the way in tighter standards when it replaces its own light bulbs.
The administration will also apply $346 million in Recovery Act funds to speed the installment of technology that could improve building efficiency by up to 80 percent.
The announcement comes days after the House passed a cap-and-trade bill by 219-212 with almost no Republican support.
Under the bill, polluters would be charged for their carbon dioxide emissions and emissions levels would be reduce over time.
By 2020, greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 17 percent, and by 2050, emissions would be cut by 83 percent.
Companies would only be allowed a certain level of emissions, and under the cap-and-trade plan, they would be able to buy and sell emissions credits.
Obama called the passage in the House legislation “a vote of historic proportions.” “There’s no disagreement over whether our dependence on foreign oil is endangering our security. We know it is,” he said last week. “There’s no longer a debate about whether carbon pollution is placing our planet in jeopardy. It’s happening.”
To make his case for increased efficiency, Obama cited California, where each person consumes 40 percent less energy than the average American because of efficiency standards put in place in the late 1970s.
“Think about that. California producing jobs, their economy keeping pace with the rest of the country,” Obama said during his announcement Monday, “and yet they have been able to maintain their energy usage at a much lower level than the rest of the country.”
Energy Secretary Steven Chu agreed that greater efficiency is practical. “When it comes to saving money and growing our economy, energy efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit,” he said in a released statement, “it’s fruit laying on the ground.”
Obama said that much of the technology already exists to increase appliance efficiency. “We’re not lacking for ideas and innovation,” he said. “All we lack are the smart policies and the political will to help us put our ingenuity to work.”
He has linked efficiency and the cap-and-trade legislation with a healthy economy, and said the measures will create thousands of jobs. New clean energy jobs are an essential part of “a new foundation for economic growth so that we don’t return to the endless cycle of bubble and bust,” he said.
Republicans worried the bill will harm the nation’s economy by raising energy prices, and by encouraging companies to ship jobs overseas to countries will fewer emissions restrictions.
Mark Muro from the Brookings institute, an independent think tank, dismissed the Republican claims. In a phone interview, he said, “the cost to the economy and to individual households has been grossly exaggerated.”
He largely agreed that reductions in carbon emissions are an important step for the nation, that the legislation would create jobs, and that tightening efficiency standards would be “relatively easy.”
“The country has been remiss in attacking some of these issues,” he said. There are still simple ways to increase efficiency.
On the ultimate outcome of the cap-and-trade legislation, Muro said, “The Senate will be even harder.” Reconciling the House and the Senate bills will be difficult, he said. “The Senate is simply less oriented towards action on this.”
Obama said the choice for more efficiency and lower emissions is simple. “We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy.” he said. “We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc, or we can create jobs utilizing low-carbon technologies to prevent its worst effects.”
“The American people have made their choice,” he said. “They expect us to move forward right now at this moment of great challenge, and stake our claim on the future.”