On the daunting list of pressing issues facing the United States, where every item is a priority, the subject of energy surely must rank at the top. Energy, no matter its source—coal, oil, wind, hydro, or solar—influences every part of U.S. and international society, determining politics, economics, research, technology, and the environment.

The Obama administration, in its commitment to keep its campaign promises, has introduced an energy and climate bill within its first 100 days. The 600-page draft bill is built around the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through what is being referred to as a “cap-and-trade” system. The proposed legislation calls on large-scale entities such as electric utilities, oil companies, and industrial manufacturers—who collectively contribute the largest amount to the nation's carbon production—to reduce emissions to 3 percent below 2005 levels by 2012, and to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. But details about this process of crediting and borrowing carbon offsets have not been made clear, and if this well-intended proposed legislation is to stand any chance of success, more concrete information is needed now rather than later.

While the larger picture is important, the early stages of this legislative process raise two critical questions: Where does lighting fit into the proposed energy legislation, and who is Washington consulting when it comes to lighting and lighting-related issues?

Upon closer examination of the proposed bill, lighting is one of several lesser-known items “buried” in the draft text, and is grouped with appliances mandated to meet new efficiency standards. Manufacturers that sell “best in class” energy-efficient appliances would be rewarded by financial incentives. Sounds good, right? No. Since when did lighting become an appliance like a washing machine or a dryer? Can a luminaire, with all its components and all its intricacies, be simplified this way, rather than being treated as an application and part of a larger system in buildings and infrastructure? I don't think so.

Take for example outdoor lighting, a broad term that covers everything from roadways and parking lots to landscapes and stadium lighting. There are many issues at play—light trespass, glare, sky glow, and others. Organizations like the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) have been working for decades, in more recent years alongside the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), to develop a system that could address all the nuances of outdoor lighting, from urban to rural settings. The most comprehensive outcome has been the creation of the Model Lighting Ordinance (MLO) to set forth guidelines for navigating outdoor lighting scenarios. The most recent draft, a 25-page document that was open for public review and comment through April 10 at the IDA's website, incorporates a new set of measurement criteria to account for lighting emitted from a fixture in all directions including backlight, uplight, and glare. In this context, how can outdoor lighting be reduced to the same standard as an appliance?

Compounding the issue is the political pressure to put a draft bill into play and pass the 2009 Energy Act before Congress breaks—only a few months away. To date, the lighting design community really has not been engaged at the political level. If ever there were a time for that to happen, it would be now. Organizations such as the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) and the IES, which represent lighting practitioners from both the design and engineering fields, should reconsider their organizational bylaws to more actively engage the political system.

And this engagement shouldn't just stop with designers; all stakeholders must be fairly and equally represented at the table when it comes to drafting any legislation on lighting—manufacturers, electric utility companies, lighting research entities, government agencies, and public advocacy groups. Just as transparency is being demanded of our financial institutions, the same should be expected of the organizations, institutions, and regulatory agencies that are setting the rules and standards to which lighting designers and manufacturers will have to adhere. There's too much at stake to leave this industry-defining law to those who are not familiar with lighting. The proposed legislation, with its treatment of lighting as an appliance, will have an impact well into future generations. It will establish building protocols and influence the lighting and energy marketplace for decades to come, and not necessarily in a good way.

Politicians cannot blindly regulate lighting. It is critical at this early stage in the drafting of new energy legislation to provide a logical, clear message. Enacting new energy policy cannot simply be about getting it done, as if it were an item on a checklist; it has to be about getting it done right. Otherwise, the nation will miss another opportunity to set forth a progressive energy policy that modernizes our electric grid and addresses global warming. The lighting community must step forward and help set the course for this 21st century defining issue.