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Green Building News

The Politics of Light Bulbs

Energy-efficiency advocates lost a battle when the House of Representatives voted to withhold funding for enforcement of light-bulb efficiency standards


Image Credit: General Electric

Declaring that the federal government has no right to tell Americans what kind of light bulbs to use in their homes, Representative Michael Burgess last week offered an amendment to a 2012 energy and water spending bill that would withhold funds to enforce a 2007 law requiring increases in the energy efficiency of light bulbs.

As noted in a number of news stories, including an overview of the light bulb controversy published by the New York Times, the provision was approved on a voice vote, and the energy bill itself was approved on a vote of 219 to 196.

While it’s hardly certain the amendment will survive a vote in the Senate or the scrutiny of the White House, many House Republicans see it as a demonstration of their resistance to overreaching federal regulation – a talking point for the next election cycle.

An inconvenient provenance

One awkward aspect of this political contortion, though, is that the light-bulb efficiency regulations – which are part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 – were co-authored by a Republican congressman, Fred Upton, current head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat. Signed into law by President George W. Bush, the bill requires most light bulbs to be 25% to 30% more efficient by 2014 and at least 60% more efficient by 2020.

Democrats say the reversal by Upton, who supports the new amendment, and other Republicans who originally supported the 2007 law shows that the party is pandering to the far right and is playing into the fact that light-bulb efficiency requirements have become a popular point of discussion for conservatives.

But as noted in a recent Miami Herald story on the subject, the economic savings associated with energy-efficient light bulbs may determine the final outcome of this debate. Department of Energy researchers say the efficiency and longevity of the devices could, under the 2007 regulations, save about $6 billion a year by 2015. And with prevailing economic pressures continuing to dog consumers, the demand for incandescent bulbs is expected to decline, regardless of the ongoing political debate.

3 Comments

  1. Nathan Hertel | | #1

    analysis somewhat lacking
    Why in the world would we legislate something what's supposedly in everyone's own interest? If two banks in a town offer different rates on a CD over a given period of time, should the city require all depositors to use the one with the higher return? Is it really appropriate to make someone a *federal criminal* that sells an f'ing light bulb to a neighbor? You really want to spend the money for bureaucrats to sit around and promulgate the pages and pages of regulations for this? Is this what we need to spend law enforcement resources on? I can totally appreciate the author is no constitutional law professor, but I think he'd do well to reflect on the accumulating suffocation this pervasive encroachment of do-gooder mandates has on American life.

    It could be worse, but the law seems to have a mile-wide hole through it from day one: stores will continue to sell incandescent bulbs as "heat bulbs".

  2. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Nathan Hertel
    Nathan,
    The federal government has been regulating the efficiency of many appliances for years, including refrigerators, air conditioners, furnaces, and water heaters. These regulations have been very successful at reducing energy use per appliance.

    Of course, there's always the Jevons Paradox to consider ... but that's another story.

  3. Doug Caldwell | | #3

    CFL's
    We are big supporters of CFL's, and we have them in nearly every fixture of our house. However, there are a few places (such as closets) where an incandescent bulb is simply better. Since CFL's take a while to reach maximum brightness, we use a single incandescent bulb along with several CFL's for "instant on" lighting in some rooms. Maybe someone could develop an automatic dimmer for the incandescent, once the CFL's come to full brightness. One other thing about an incandescent bulb: in a heated home, the additional heat from an incandescent will help heat the home-it's not wasted energy, at least in this case.
    Some news sources have stated that CFL's cost 10 X as much as incandescents. At least not in the Pacific NW, where we can by a 23 W CFL (equivalent to a 100W incandescent) for about a buck each at Costco.

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