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How Many Congressmen Does It Take To Screw Up a Light Bulb?

David Doniger

Posted July 11, 2011

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Taking Care of the Medium Screw Base

The BULB Act – for “Better Use of Light Bulbs” – is the latest bright idea from Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who last year apologized to BP during the Gulf oil spill and more recently questioned whether there is any “medical negative” from mercury or other dangerous air pollutants.

This is a dim-watted bill.  The BULB Act would repeal the federal lighting efficiency standards that Congress adopted on a bipartisan basis in its 2007 energy legislation, signed by President George W. Bush. The bill would also block any state from setting standards to cut how much juice is used by “medium screw base general service incandescent lamps.”  It would even block states from setting building construction standards that incorporate efficient lighting.

The 2007 energy law ordered a make-over for the old incandescent bulb, which hadn’t much changed since the days of Thomas Edison, and which wastes billions of dollars of electricity each year.  Instead of padding the bottom lines of big power companies and companies that supply coal, natural gas, and other fuels, the new standards will keep those billions in consumers’ pockets.  All that wasted electricity means more pollution that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year, sickens millions more, and drives dangerous global warming. 

So to cut electricity use, save consumers money, and reduce pollution, the 2007 law requires new light bulbs made starting in 2012 to use less electricity.  Contrary to all the over-amped hype, the 2007 law does not ban the incandescent bulb and force everyone to use compact fluorescents.  The law requires only that manufacturers make bulbs more efficient.  And rising to the challenge, bulb manufacturers are already making a variety of bulbs that meet the new standards, including incandescent bulbs that are 28-33 percent more efficient than the traditional incandescent bulb.  In the bargain, they’ve also created more than 2,000 new jobs at American manufacturing facilities.

These sensible standards will save American families $100 per household every year – $12 billion overall – money they surely can put to good use, especially in these hard times.  These standards also will cut all forms of power plant pollution, avoiding the equivalent of 30 large power plants.  That includes avoiding 100 million tons per year of dangerous carbon pollution, equivalent to the emissions of 17 million cars.

Barton, being a staunch defender of big energy companies and polluters, couldn’t give two cents for consumer savings and public health.  No, for Barton and other BULB Act backers, this is a crusade for “personal liberty.”

They’ll have to pry that bulb from my cold dead hand. 

There is, however, no Constitutional right to keep and arm bulbs.

Fortunately, no matter how the House votes on this, the BULB Act will never become law.  Like so many other ideological bills passed by the House this year, this one will not see the artificial light of day in the Senate.

This is all about pandering to the House members’ angry conservative constituency.  But if I were playing to the Tea Party, I’d be careful about bills using the terms “medium screw base.”

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peter dublinJul 11 2011 05:47 PM

While unlike other opponents I am for energy and emission savings,
these regulations are a bad idea....

It is a Ban,
the Savings are not there,
and there are much more relevant Electricity Generation, Distribution and Consumption policies than going round people's homes telling them what they can or can't use.

See the extensive comments on
Kit Kennedy's blog post, who says much the same as you:

Basically, on the Ban issue,
See the 2007 Energy Act:
ALL known incandescents banned by 2020 according to the standard specification.

The Act even states the intent:
"The Secretary of Energy shall report to Congress on the time frame
for commercialization of lighting to REPLACE INCANDESCENT and HALOGEN INCANDESCENT lamp technology
(Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007/Title III/Subtitle B/Section 321)

For more on this:

peter dublinJul 11 2011 06:03 PM

Specifically to what you say,
the reasons the supposed savings are not there are summarized on

while the reason no large power plants are saved anyway is on

Consumers, also, hardly save money anyway either, inasmuch as utilities are subsidised or can raise bill rates (eg California., Ohio) with any electricity use reduction

It's not all about Savings:
All bulbs have advantages, and people may prefer to pay to use them
People pay for the electricity they use, of which there is no shortage, and if there was a shortage, the price rise reduces use anyway

The alternative and better way to save energy,
is by competition between utilities and
industries who thereby themselves want to reduce costs (incl energy costs)
and manufacturer competition to deliver energy saving products people actually want to buy (as they do buy expensive-but-cheap-in-the-long-run battteries, washing up liquids etc
- properly marketed, not relying on easy bans for bigger profit)

Still want to target the bulbs?

Tax them –
which pays for subsidising cheaper CFLs and LEDs,
equilibrating the market and keeping choice – and people are “not just hit by taxes”.
2 BILLION annual US sales gives plenty of income from cheap easily taxable bulbs.

And that’s just light bulbs.

A bankrupt state like California,
that now regulates everything in sight, could consider taxation instead
(with their ideology) including taxing coal etc, quickly lowering relevant electricity use, and covering the subsidy cost for alternative energy use and household provision.

Free Markets (firstly),
Taxation (secondly)
are superior to Regulation in energy and emission policies
(more on this, specifically with Light Bulbs: )

peter dublinJul 11 2011 06:13 PM

Re "not being a Ban",
see Kit Kennedy's blog post comment

Or basically see the 2007 Energy Act itsel:
All known incansdescents banned by 2020 from the energy usage standard specification,

the Act even explicitly states the intent
"The Secretary of Energy shall report to Congress on the time frame for commercialization of lighting to replace incandescent and halogen incandescent lamp technology"
(Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007/Title III/Subtitle B/Section 321)

Energy efficient incandescent (Halogen etc) replacements also have
light quality and other differences anyway to simple incandescents,
apart from costing much more for small savings, which is why neither
politicians or consumers like them very much
- if people really took
up the"Offer" to keep buying them,
the supposed USA energy savings are even LESS than before (see the other comment)

More on the "not a ban" issue

peter dublinJul 11 2011 06:16 PM

( Sorry, I thought
the first comment was lost...anyway not sure you bother reading them! ;-) )

Daniel CorbinJul 12 2011 09:59 AM

Come on people we need these new energy saving light bulbs.

Carl ZichellaJul 13 2011 07:56 PM

Technology fixes like this (think CAFE standards) have long-lasting, cost slashing effects. They enhance, not detract from consumer choice, and make societally necessary shifts , especially those that need to be made relatively quickly, occur much faster.

peter dublinJul 17 2011 12:32 PM

RE your question in the title...

How Many Congressmen Should It Take To Regulate a Light Bulb?


How many Citizens should be allowed to Choose?


Comments are closed for this post.


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