Light bulb provision will do little to bring back popular, inexpensive incandescents
BY SUSAN FERRECHIO, SEAN LENGELL | JANUARY 15, 2014 AT 4:52 AM
Tucked into a 1,500-page budget bill now moving through Congress is a Republican provision that would restore the incandescent light bulbs that were phased out in favor of greener lighting technology.
But the legislation is likely to disappoint hopeful light-bulb hoarders and other haters of the new energy-efficient, squiggly tailed compact fluorescent and LED lights that replaced the iconic bulbs.
"The light bulb [provision] is mainly political theater at this point," said Kit Kennedy, a lawyer for the energy and transportation program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
"The efficiency standards for lighting are in effect," Kennedy said. "The majority of U.S. manufacturers are committed to these standards, which they support, and are going to be complying with them, rider or no rider."
Since Jan. 1, it has been illegal to produce 40- or 60-watt incandescent light bulbs in the United States. The 75-watt and 100-watt bulbs were banned earlier.
Incandescent bulbs that have been in use in America since the 1800s were banned in 2007 by green-energy legislation approved by Democratic lawmakers and signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.
Supporters of the ban say the incandescent bulbs wasted energy and that a more environmentally friendly alternative was needed.
Defenders of the traditional bulb say the government is again overreaching, that the marketplace should decide what kind of bulbs are manufactured here.
While compact fluorescent bulbs have largely replaced the traditional bulbs, consumers also can opt for LED lights, which last longer than incandescent or fluorescent but cost much more — up to 20 times more than the bulbs they replace.
The iconic incandescent bulb has become a rallying point for Republicans and when the GOP recaptured control of the House in a 2010 wave election, lawmakers made several attempts to revive it.
Led in the House by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to repeal the 2007 ban and, failing that, to cut off funding for Department of Energy enforcement of the bulb ban. Burgess finally got the funding cutoff provision inserted into an energy and water spending bill that President Obama signed into law.
The provision lawmakers inserted into the 2014 bill would extend that funding cutoff for enforcement, but would do nothing to revive the production of incandescent bulbs. Burgess acknowledged the provision's limitations in an interview with the Washington Examiner, but said he's hopes the measure revives interest in the traditional bulb.
Democrats dismissed the Republican effort to revive the bulb as political grandstanding that did nothing to alter the 2007 law.
"This is just a messaging amendment for [Republicans in the] House to say they made the Senate take this thing," said a senior Democratic congressional aide. "It practically, at least in the short term, really doesn't make any difference, because everyone's following these rules anyway."
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