Light goes out on old-style bulbs in Congress

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

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.

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