skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Kit Kennedy’s Blog

There They Go Again: The Conservatives' War Against Energy Conservation and Clean Energy

Kit Kennedy

Posted July 14, 2013

, , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

Republican members of the House of Representatives are at it again: After trying and failing to overturn light bulb energy-efficiency standards that were passed by a bipartisan majority in 2007 and signed into law by President George W. Bush (a Republican, if you will recall), they’re relying once more on what they see as their next best option—undermining the U.S. Department of Energy’s ability to enforce the law. That law protects consumers and the American manufacturers who’ve invested heavily in energy-efficient bulbs. But the Republican plan, passed as part of House energy legislation this week, is to cut funding for the law’s enforcement. (You’ve got that right. Law-and-order Republicans are encouraging light bulb sellers to flout the law. Go figure.)

6196476724_a53607dab2.jpgThanks to lighting innovations sparked by the bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, American households can save an average of $100 a year or more on energy. House Republicans, however, are trying to undermine that success and the growing success of clean energy overall. (Photo: US Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Americans like these new bulbs because they save them money on their energy bills. And though the Republican amendment isn’t likely to make it into the final House-Senate compromise energy bill, their efforts are part of an overall Republican legislative effort to slash government clean-energy funding by more than half. (In the same legislation, Republicans have also made damaging and callous cuts to the weatherization program, which makes the homes of low-income Americans more energy efficient, and, as a result, enables many of them to make ends meet.) Perhaps, all this is part of what many Republican officials see as a culture war, or a quid pro quo for their fossil-fuel-industry benefactors. Either way, these efforts move us a backward as a nation, not forward. They undermine the President’s ambitious climate plan. They deny the well-documented success of energy efficiency in saving consumers money, creating jobs and cutting pollution. (Examples of energy efficiency’s tremendous benefits in California are available in this new and important NRDC report.) And none of these Republican attempts help us create the clean energy future that Americans overwhelmingly want, or meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

House Republicans are once again wasting everyone’s time and the taxpayers’ money on frivolous votes that needlessly fight against traditional Republican values of thrift and cutting waste. "Given that American manufacturers have committed to following the law regardless of whether or not it is enforced," Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur explained on the House floor during the light bulb debate this week, "the only benefit of this ill-informed rider is to allow foreign manufacturers —who may not feel a similar obligation—to import noncompliant light bulbs that will not only harm the investments made by U.S. companies, but place at risk the U.S. manufacturing jobs associated with making compliant bulbs." I hope the Senate will once again reject this latest political grandstanding.

Consider the light-bulb efficiency standard, which is being undermined, and was created as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), proposed by Michigan Republican Fred Upton, by the way. This law has benefits for everyone. There are annual household energy savings of $100 a year, and better quality lighting, too, thanks to the innovation EISA has sparked. There are thousands of new American jobs in manufacturing, research, development, design and marketing of new lighting options. In fact, at least one American manufacturer has even moved some of its operations back to the U.S. from China to meet demand for the new, more efficient bulbs. How often do we see that happen?

Add to all that pollution cuts equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the roads each year.

EISA doesn’t ban the old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs – it just makes them better. It has spurred creation of new energy-saving incandescents, which are finally on shelves at stores nationwide. Many of these new bulbs cost less than $1.50 each. Before the law, by contrast, the American light bulb languished in a technological backwater, with few major improvements after Thomas Edison first designed the thing more than a century ago. 

Now, there are incandescents that are almost 30 percent more efficient And it’s not just incandescent bulbs that consumers can choose from. There are those twirly CFLs, which perform better and provide better light than they used to—I know, I use them all over my house. And LED bulbs, too. They’re the biggest money savers, since they last for about 20 years.

No wonder the law and its enforcement have widespread support from consumer groups, from lighting manufacturers, from labor groups, religious groups, environmental groups, business groups, even Republican groups.

Of course, the House Republicans weren’t content to stop with light bulbs. They also took a swipe at efficient ceiling fans. My colleague Marianne DiMascio at the Appliance Standard Awareness Project has a great blog on that one. 

Other clean energy funding cuts in the House energy legislation passed yesterday undermine our efforts to move forward as well. In research alone, funding has been slashed by more than half—cuts of $766 million—leaving the Republicans’ proposed new clean-energy research total at $731.6 million. The budget for the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, which supports the kind of energy innovation that can help America regain our lead in technologies that will transform the way we generate, store and use energy, instead of losing that lead to countries like China—that budget will plummet from $265 million last year to $70 million in the current fiscal year. By contrast, in the House energy legislation, the world’s richest industry --the mature fossil fuel industry, which has benefitted from more than $450 billion in federal dollars over the last 100-plus years --gets off easy. It will be the beneficiary of nearly $450 million, with a mere $84 million cut from last year’s total.

There’s no culture war over light bulbs or clean energy. Nobody is taking anybody’s incandescents away. The same old ordinary, old-fashioned light bulbs that I grew up with are still on the shelf  They just perform better and save us money. And newer, cooler, even more efficient options like LED are proliferating, offering consumers an ever-widening choice of how to light their homes. The same goes for clean-energy research: It’s not taking anything from anyone. If the Republicans in the House were really concerned only about the federal deficit, they’d have cut fossil fuel subsidies at the same rate as clean energy.

What we need now as a nation are new jobs, money savings for cash-strapped consumers and businesses, and technologies that significantly cut the pollution that damages our kids’ health, turbocharges extreme weather and fuels global warming. With any of these challenges, cutting funding for the enforcement of light bulb efficiency standards and funding for clean energy moves us backwards, not ahead.

Share | | |


peter dublinJul 20 2013 10:53 AM

"Americans like these new bulbs because they save them money on their
energy bills"
?? So what's stopping them buying them then...

Incandescent regulation is there in the first place because incandescent bulbs are popular and this "market failure" is held to justify a ban.
No point banning what people DON'T want to buy ;-)
In fact, as info shows, most households have at least 1
energy saving bulb.
People simply don't want to fill their house with them.
American 40+ lighting point households (Energy Star info) shows plenty
of varied lighting conditions:

Energy saving is not the only reason to choose a bulb, incandescents have their own specific bright broad spectrum and optionally sparkling transparent
lighting advantages over replacement technology,
and touted "allowed" halogen type 72W etc replacements will be phased out too on the 45 lumen per W end regulation of EISA phase2, which NRDC somehow always neglects to mention...
Halogen etc incandescents still have differences anyway and cost much more
for marginal usage savings which is why they are not popular either with consumers or politicians - no "halogen switchover programs"!

The grid savings are comparatively small on Dept of Energy grid data,
c.1%, and that does not include the greater life cycle energy use of
the more complex replacements, or the fact that night use involves
mainly spare grid capacity anyway
(= already there, for whoever wants to pay for it).

Or to quote from scientists about similar EU light bulb regulations,
as also referenced via link given:
Cambridge Scientific Alliance (normally UK Gov supporting in advising
on energy use reduction)

"The total reduction in EU energy use would be 0.54 x 0.8 x 0.76% = 0.33%
This figure is almost certainly an overestimate......
.....Which begs the question: is it really worth it?
Politicians are forcing a change to a particular technology which is
fine for some applications but not universally liked, and which has
The problem is that legislators are unable to tackle the big issues of
energy use effectively, so go for the soft target of a high profile
domestic use of energy...
...This is gesture politics."

Supposed CO2 savings hardly there either as coal plants are slow and
expensive to
turn down at relevant times outside peak demand (DEFRA, APTECH
referenced, previous link).
Effectively, the same coal is often burned regarding what bulb is on or off.

More, part of 14 point rundown,

peter dublinJul 20 2013 11:18 AM

This article is odd for another reason,
in assuming that only big business anti-environmental Republicans are for a ban.

Firstly, Environmental Sustainability:

Apart from mentioned negligible society usage savings, complex CFL/LED
replacements involve more energy and CO2 in mining, manufacture
(including component parts) transport and recycling - while if not
recycled, then one has the dumping of mercury containing fluorescents
and the loss of rare earth minerals of LEDs.

Easier to locally make simple generic cheap regular bulbs for small
and startup companies, which more easily gives local jobs too:
Compared to patented complex bulbs mostly made in major (China) plants
and brought over on low grade bunker-oil powered polluting ships, whatever about CREE type local exception as the article mentions.

Long lasting low cost 10 000 - 20 000 hr incandescent bulbs can and
are being made for mining and other industry, but kept away from
consumer outlets for industrial political reasons, as follows.....

peter dublinJul 20 2013 11:20 AM

"in assuming that only big business anti-environmental Republicans are *against* a ban" ;-)

peter dublinJul 20 2013 11:38 AM

The other aspect of this article targets Republicans "big oil" industry type support.
Yet the regulations do everything to support the big business of major light bulb manufacturers.

Why did GE, Osram/Sylvania and Philips welcome the ban?
Why welcome what you can or can't make?

GE, Osram/Sylvania and Philips involvement in US lighting legislation
has been well covered in the press (eg Moorehead of Philips own description of involvement, and GE executives on Gov advisory board),
and in a 2011 book by Howard Brandston co authored with Michael Leahy
"I, Light Bulb".
Howard Brandston (Congress consultant on lighting, a NY lighting designer by profession) was himself involved in the hearings leading up to the ban

The NEMA Lamp Subcommittee was composed of General Electric,
Osram Sylvania, and Phillips, the same industrial giants who formed
the old Phoebus Cartel back in 1924.
When I asked NEMA for help in fighting the incandescent light ban, I was politely told that they could not be involved in any research program like that.
In April 2007, ahead of Congress hearings, NEMA then announced its support for energy efficient lighting policy...

And the Phoebus cartel?
That is why 1000 hr standard life on regular bulbs endures - they fixed it (look it up).
As said, incandescent bulbs lasting 20 000 hrs can and are being made at low
cost for industry like mining.

And now?
Financed by the World Bank under UN auspices, Philips and Osram are part of the UNEP en.lighten program allowing profitable disposal worldwide in developing countries of CFL (or LED) light bulbs that they presumably would not otherwise sell for equivalent income.

It's a bit as if generic patent-free penicillin was blocked and discouraged, so pharmaceutical companies could sell their expensive patented replacements to poor African countries.

There is nothing wrong in private enterprise looking for profit.
There is every wrong in assisting them by removing competition rather than increasing it.

Progress is not a bunch of bureaucrats setting arbitrary energy usage cut off points.
Progress involves competition and free choice of alternatives:

Product standards, are always welcome for consumer information and to assist cross-border trade.
However, it does not necessitate banning products not meeting the standards.
Even if incandescents needed specific targeting, they could be taxed and the income used to lower prices of alternatives (so people "not just hit by taxes").
But better still is free market competition which of course can include governments helping "energy saving" products to market, without continuing
subsidies, and get the manufacturers themselves to properly market their products.

People have always desired products that save energy.
"Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run":
If that is true, then as with batteries (Energizer bunny commercials) and washing up liquids, manufacturers could advertise accordingly, rather than run to regulators lobbying for bans on less profitable cheap patent expired regular bulb alternatives.

Energy saving is good,
but "energy waste" hardly comes from a personal choice of a product to use for its specific advantages,
"energy waste" is rather from unnecessary product use, as with municipal and office lighting continually left on at night.

How many politicians should it take to change a light bulb?
How many people should be allowed to choose?

peter dublinJul 20 2013 11:51 AM

Regarding consumers saving money...

Society laws are presumably there to save society energy rather than what Johnny might save in choosing a light bulb for his bedreoom, which may have reasons other than money.

Besides, money savings are hardly there (or take a VERY long time) for most
rarely used bulbs in 40+ bulb US households, as referenced.
Tax payer price lowering subsidies for CFL/LED bulbs should also be remembered, as for utilities:

Overall money savings are hardly there anyway when utilities are compensated for assumed lower sales either through being allowed to raise bills or by taxpayer subsidy (eg California)


Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Kit Kennedy’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In