Efficient Light Bulb Congress Battle Brews

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.

LED Light Bulb

image via MyLEDLightingGuide

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.”

Aaron Colter is a freelance writer and marketing consultant in Portland, Oregon. A graduate of Purdue University, he has worked for the NCAA, Dark Horse Comics, Willamette Week, AOL, The Huffington Post, Top Shelf Productions, DigitalTrends, theMIX agency, SuicideGirls, EarthTechling, d'Errico Studios and others. He is also the co-founder of BananaStandMedia.com, a free record label, recording studio, and distribution service for independent musicians.

    • Jess

      We need to retain the option of incandescent bulbs because there are several medical conditions that are adversely affected by CFL’s and in fact all forms of fluorescent lighting has been shown to be generally bad for our health, causing headaches, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and immune system suppression.

    • I believe we can meet the energy demands with less health harm with new bulb lightening. LED diodes can be named as high technology invention that can replace anything we used so far. See also: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/03/08/lighting-roundup-plumen-designer-bulbs-qatar-and-a-project-to-drool-over/

    • Lighthouse

      The Darker Side of the light bulb ban:

      Light bulb ban proponents keep saying
      “Hey, this is not a ban, energy efficient incandescents like Halogens will be allowed!”

      Sure it’s a ban:
      Any light not meeting the standard is banned,
      and Halogens, like CFLs or LEDs, have differences in construction,
      light output type etc as well as in costing much more, compared to
      simple ordinary bulbs.
      Replacement Halogens have been around for some time and are unpopular because of the small energy and lifespan savings gained compared to regular bulbs… which is why they are hard to get (as in post-ban Europe) and not pushed by any governments either,
      since they give (even) less savings reason for a ban.

      LEDs are not yet ready as bright omnidirectional lighting at a good price – which leaves CFLs.

      The official reason that CFLs are pushed as the main replacement is to save energy…
      the less publicised reason is their profitability:

      How manufacturers and vested interests have pushed for this ban,
      and lobbied for CFL favors:
      http://ceolas.net/#li1ax with documentation and copies of official
      communications