U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) recently introduced Bill S.395, aka the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act (BULB), that essentially seeks to end government mandated energy efficiency standards in the light bulb industry. A similar bill, H.R. 91, was introduced earlier this year by Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) under the same name. Both bills seek to repeal provisions in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. A hearing was held on Enzi’s bill this past week, according to the New York Times, that got a little ugly at certain moments.
According to Senator Enzi, the 2007 energy law will effectively – and wrongly, in his opinion – ban traditional incandescent bulbs by 2012. Senator Enzi said alternative light bulbs like CFLs are both more expensive and contain traces of mercury that can be harmful in small doses. None of the Senator’s statements are necessarily untrue as these types of bulbs do contain trace amounts of mercury vapor and can sometimes cost more than that of incandescent bulbs at retail. However, as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out, that’s not the whole story when it comes to energy efficient lighting.
The law requires lightbulbs to use 25% less energy by 2012, and 65% less by 2020. According to the NRDC the standards, once fully implemented, will save each American household at least $100 each year. It will reportedly reduce U.S. energy bills by more than $10 billion per year, achieve energy savings equivalent to 30 large power plants, and offset 100 million tons of CO2 pollution.
Senator Enzi believes consumers, not the government, should chose the efficiency standards based on market forces. But NRDC points that until the 2007 energy law was enacted, most consumers didn’t have the option of purchasing fluorescent bulbs compatible with their homes. As well, the National Electrical Manufacturers (NEMA) released a statement last year that noted the market for incandescent bulbs still available fell by 50% over the last five years, and noted that 22% of all energy used in the U.S. is for lighting.
NRDC notes as well that older incandescent bulbs lose approximately 90% of the energy the produce through heat waste, and that a single 100 watt bulb can cost up to $10 per year to power. Also of note from the non profit are two other interesting arguments: (1) “CFLs contain two to four milligrams of mercury. For comparison sake, the thermometers many of us grew up with in our mouths contained about 500 milligrams of mercury – the equivalent of about 125 CFLs” and (2) “Want to stick with incandescents? You still can – it’s just that new and improved incandescent bulbs will put out the same sort of light using 28 percent less energy than old-school bulbs.”