How many administrations does it take to change a light bulb?  Try… seven.

Pres. Obama yesterday ordered the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to set standards to improve the energy efficiency of bulbs and other power-sucking household appliances, including air conditioners, ovens and dishwashers.

“This will save consumers money, this will spur innovation, and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy,” Obama told department staffers. “We'll save through these simple steps over the next 30 years the amount of energy produced over a two-year period by all the coal-fired power plants in America.”

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA) required DoE to establish efficiency standards for household appliances by a series of dates in 1988, 1989 and 1992. The agency missed the deadline for 22 categories of products, including residential furnaces, dishwashers and microwaves and four years ago, 14 states and advocacy groups sued DoE for dragging its feet. The agency entered into a consent decree with the states in November 2006, agreeing to publish final rules on 22 categories of products by June 2011. So far, it’s only set limits for seven.

Obama's order requires the agency to set tougher rules by this summer on fluorescent and reflector lamps, microwaves, gas ovens and stoves, drink vending machines and commercial boilers and air conditioners.  Energy officials must establish new efficiency standards by 2011 for residential furnaces, dishwashers, pool heaters, distribution transformers, refrigerators, washing machines and commercial icemakers.

"Far and away, the biggest potential energy savers in this package are the standards due by June 30 for linear fluorescent lamps and reflector lamps," says Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Boston-based Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), which lobbies for improved energy efficiency.

The Bush administration proposed bulb efficiency standards just days before Obama took office designed to save by 2042 nearly $40 billion in energy bills, hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide, hundreds of kilotons of nitrous oxide and tons of mercury, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The group says the amount of energy saved would be enough to power 101 million homes—but it and ASAP are pushing for further restrictions that they say would save more money and energy and lead to steeper emission cuts.

Image © iStockphoto/sweetym