The House Sees the Light

“The incandescent ban on light bulbs to improve the environment is about as effective as the low flush toilet,” says Sandy Liddy Bourne, executive director of the American Energy Freedom Center.

Bourne added:

The Clinton-era toilet actually required more water to be used because of the pressure in the infrastructure. The new bulbs are inevitably going to lead to mercury being released in the environment.  This is another misguided effort by central planners that sends American jobs overseas and raises the cost of living for low and middle income families.

It’s already clear that CFLs, which need mercury to work, impose an environmental hazard that may offset the energy savings they produce. The transition to the new technology certainly hasn’t been seamless. Not everyone sells CFLs.They are expensive.  And, contrary to incandescent bulbs, they work best when they are left on, which requires everyone to change their behavior. Turning them on and off, as one does with incandescent bulbs, actually reduces their useful lifespan since they cannot handle the constant power surge.

The BULB Act, says Amy Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research, will draw support from "clever members of both parties” who will “vote to pass it before their constituents are forcibly herded toward mercury-containing compact fluorescent bulbs.”

Ridenour is not a fan of CFLs:

Many elderly people find CFLs hard to read by, and worse, CFLs can cause seizures in people who are prone to them. Seizures can be harmless, but they also can cause brain damage or death.

They are also a potentially hazardous waste, which is why they can’t just be tossed out in the trash when they burn out. They have to be disposed of “properly” -- which means it's just a matter of time before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency comes out with rules governing their disposal along with an accompanying schedule of fines and other penalties that will be imposed on companies and individuals that don’t’ follow along, as happened several years ago with halogen bulbs.

LEDs, which don’t yet seem to have the disposal challenges presented by CFLs, are just too expensive for the average homeowner to use in any kind of quantity. Nevertheless, there were those who thought that forcing consumers to move away from incandescent bulbs and into new technologies before they were fully developed was still a good idea.

Barton’s bill changes all that by eliminating the efficiency standards set to take effect in 2012 and by ensuring that no federal, state, or local lighting requirement can mandate the use of bulbs that contain mercury -- as CFLs do.

Restoring consumer choice is a good idea. Barton, Upton, and the others who are supporting the bill should be commended for taking a position that is actually pro-consumer and, in the totality of things, pro-environment. This is not to say that CFLs and LEDs are not also good ideas. That’s not the point. But mandating their use instead of incandescents ignores the wisdom of the marketplace.

There’s room for more than one technology. What Congress needs to do is get the government out of the way, which is what Barton’s bill proposes to do.

Update: The Obama administration released the following statement today:

July 11, 2011

(House)

STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY

H.R. 2417 - Better Use of Light Bulbs Act

(Rep. Barton, R-TX, and 33 cosponsors)

The Administration opposes HR 2417, which would repeal energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, because it would result in negative economic consequences for U.S. consumers and the economy.  The Department of Energy has estimated that the lighting standards that H.R. 2417 would repeal could collectively save U.S. households nearly $6 billion in 2015 alone.  These standards are: (1) helping to drive U.S. innovation; (2) creating new manufacturing jobs in the United States; (3) saving consumers money by providing them with energy and cost efficient lighting; and (4) reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.  Further, H.R. 2417 is unnecessary.  Any type of bulb can be sold as long as it meets the efficiency requirements.  In sum, the bill would hinder an opportunity to save American consumers money, while enhancing energy efficiency and reducing harmful emissions associated with energy production.