Light goes out on old-style bulbs in Congress
The incandescent light bulb failed to earn a last-minute reprieve in the House on July 12, leaving the old-style bulb still facing a government-imposed death sentence when new regulations kick in at the end of this year.
Under a law Congress enacted in 2007, energy efficiency standards that go into effect in 2012 will chase the older, cheaper incandescent light bulbs from store shelves, leaving consumers to choose from more technologically advanced, but much more expensive, bulbs, such as the squiggly compact fluorescent bulbs.
Republicans, who took control of the House this year, had promised to try to overturn the law, but failed to muster the twothirds majority needed to pass the bill Monday under expedited rules of debate.
“The party is over for the traditional incandescent light bulb,” said Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican.
The vote was 233-193, with most Republicans voting for it and most Democrats opposed.
Republicans could bring the bill back under regular debate rules, but it was unclear whether they would do so.
The bulb debate has produced plenty of heat across the country, where some consumers have stocked up on the old-style bulbs, and in Congress, where lawmakers said the battle came down to personal freedom versus the health and safety of the planet.
“Whatever happened to government with consent of the governed?” said Rep. Michael C. Burgess, a Texas Republican who drives a hybrid vehicle and said he supports energy efficiency. Mr. Burgess said Americans should be given choices: “They should not be constrained to all of the romance of a Soviet stairwell when they go home in the evening.”
But Democrats said to turn their backs on the bulb would be equivalent to embracing the Model T Ford over modern cars.
“There’s a point to this, and the point is, it reduces the amount of greenhouse gases we have to send out into our atmos- phere. It reduces the amount of energy we have to think about importing from other countries,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat.
Mr. Markey pointed to government standards for refrigeration and cooling efficiency enacted in the 1980s that cut consumption and saved the country the costs of building dozens of coal or nuclear power plants.
“We have to learn how to think smarter and not harder,” he said.
The 2007 standards require bulbs to use 25 percent to 30 percent less energy beginning in 2012, when 100-watt bulbs must meet the standards, and ending in 2014, when 40-watt bulbs must come into compliance. By 2020, bulbs will have to be 70 percent more efficient.
Light-emitting diodes, compact fluorescent lamps and some newer incandescent bulbs can meet the new standard, but they are more expensive.
The compact fluorescent bulbs, which appear to be the leader of the new options, contain about 4 milligrams of mercury, which is considered an environmental hazard. The Environmental Protection Agency has written a three-page document detailing what consumers should do if a bulb breaks in their home, and disposing of the new bulbs is also causing concern.
Mr. Poe said French scientists have found the bulbs can cause blindness in children, while German scientists say it may be linked to cancer.
Those fears have produced a backlash.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry last month signed a bill letting any bulb manufactured and sold in Texas skirt the federal standards. The federal law relies on Congress’ authority to control interstate commerce to impose the new efficiency standards.
Cost is also an issue. Supporters of incandescent bulbs say they can be bought for less than 50 cents, while new bulbs can cost $6. Environmentalists, though, say the new bulbs can last 10 times longer and are up to 75 percent more efficient, so they pay off in the long run.
The Natural Resources Defense Council produced statements from four descendants of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the incandescent bulb, who all said it’s time to get past their famous relative’s bright idea.
“The technology changes. Embrace it,” said Robert Wheeler, grandnephew of the inventor.
Democrats said the GOP had made a major about-face on efficiency standards. Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, cosponsored the 2007 bill that ushered in the new bulbs, and the measure was signed into law by President George W. Bush, also a Republican.
Mr. Upton is now chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and one of his key promises to fellow House Republicans was that he would push to repeal the 2007 law.
Coming to your home by government order: Compact fluorescent light bulb.