Conservative Media Push Misconception That Efficiency Standards Eliminate Light Bulb "Choice"

››› ››› FAE JENCKS

Conservative media have promoted efforts to repeal provisions of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, claiming that the law banned incandescent light bulbs and that Americans will no longer have choice over their light bulb purchases. In fact, the bill simply restricts the sale of inefficient bulbs and has lead companies to develop numerous alternatives, including energy-efficient incandescents.

Conservatives Claim That Americans Will Have No Choice In Purchasing Light Bulbs

National Review Claims People Will "Have To Buy CFLs" If Repeal Of "Ban On Incandescent" Bulbs Is Unsuccessful. From a National Review column written by James Lileks:

Buried in the mound of laws you'll find something minor that symbolizes exactly what we're up against. In January, H.R. 91 was introduced: the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act. Yes: the BULB Act. What a coincidence! This bill would repeal the imminent ban on incandescent, or "good," light bulbs, so you wouldn't have to buy CFLs, which are loaded with so many nasty substances that al-Qaeda could shut down an entire small town just by sending someone to Home Depot to take a baseball bat to the CFL racks. Everyone's read the warnings: If you break a bulb, open up all the windows, go outside, pound a FOR SALE sign in your yard, live in a tent in the park, and mail the bulb shards to NASA for eventual dispersal in the sun's corona. The laws covering the disposal of a lawfully eliminated fetus are probably less stringent than the laws about getting rid of a CFL. Most people will just throw them away, adding tons of toxins to the waste stream. Domestic garbage: now enriched with mercury, for extra goodness! Anti-bulb-choice advocates say that won't happen because it's not supposed to happen. Why, it's against the law. Yes indeed. And no one drove 56 mph in the Carter years.

Sure, the president would probably veto your right to choose a freakin' light bulb because it will contribute to climate change, and people on the third floor of Miami condos will drown cursing his name for not holding back the oceans: You should have subsidized LED technology! [National Review, 3/7/11, via Nexis]

Echoing Bachmann, Beck Suggests Current Law Means We Have No "Choice" About Which Light Bulbs We Can Buy. From the March 3 edition of Beck's radio show:

GLENN BECK: And Michele Bachmann wants a new pro-choice law. Yes. Michele Bachmann wants a pro-choice law, and I'm for it. Michele Bachmann, if I weren't married, you weren't married, and I wasn't so hideous, I'd ask you to marry me. It's a pro-choice law for light bulbs. I'm sending her flowers today.

(intro)

BECK: Oh. Give it to me. Yes. Yes. Michele Bachmann. Just you and me. The lights turned down low or bright or, it doesn't matter because they're incandescent. I like them bright, I like them low. Oh yes, just you and me in the incandescent glow. May I quote a great 21st century poet? "Boom. Winning."

I have to tell you, I have to tell you, Michele Bachmann - can you get her on the phone? Because I'd like to make sweet telephonic love to her today.

STU BURGUIERE: I don't think I, this is a good idea.

BECK: I wouldn't tell her that. Don't tell her that.

PAT GRAY: That would probably just seal the deal right now that she will not -

BECK: Because she will say I don't want to take any - I'm not taking any phone. Tell her I'm dead.

BURGUIERE: She may abandon this legislation if you tell her that.

BECK: I love her. Wanting a pro-choice law so that we can - now it's not going to help jobs, because when George W. bush signed that law, what happened is we lost all the jobs to Mexico. So, but they're still making incandescent light bulbs in Mexico, just not here anymore. GE closed that plant. So, but I'm sure they're making solar - hang on, what?

No they're not making anything at that plant anymore. But pay no attention to that. We can still get our incandescent light bulbs from Mexico if Michele Bachmann has her way. [Premiere Radio Network, The Glenn Beck Program, 3/3/11]

Fox Nation Forwards Claim That "Democrats" Are "Telling Americans What Lightbulbs To Buy." Fox Nation promoted a CBS article on Bachmann's proposal under the headline: "Bachmann to Democrats: Don't Tell Americans What Lightbulbs to Buy":

[Fox Nation, 3/3/11]

The Blaze Pushes Notion That Repeal Bill Makes Light Bulb Shopping "Pro-Choice." From a March 3 article posted on Glenn Beck's website The Blaze:

MICHELE BACHMANN PUSHES NEW PRO-CHOICE LAW...FOR LIGHT BULBS

Aside from the attempted trickery in the headline, there is a serious issue behind this story. H.R. 5616 is back in play. For the neophytes, 5616 was the Bachmann-proposed bill from 2008 meant to blunt a law passed the prior year that would have changed the way Americans buy light bulbs starting next January. The new law was affectionately titled, Light Bulb Freedom of choice Act

[...]

The 2011 version is officially listed as H.R. 849, and targets the elimination of two specific parts of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 dealing with energy-efficiency standards for incandescent and fluorescent bulbs and labeling standards. Bachmann's bill would permit the 2007 standards to survive if the comptroller general is able to prove the estimated savings to consumers, reduced carbon-dioxide emissions and that the presence of mercury in the new bulbs poses no health risks to consumers.

That last item, the part about proving the presence of a neurotoxin like mercury poses no health risk, is going to be tough to get past. When the law mandating the shift to the new bulbs was passed, even NPR took issue with the mercury problem. [The Blaze, 3/3/11]

2007 Law Did Not "Ban" Incandescent Bulbs

The Energy Independence And Security Act Sets "Energy Efficiency Standards" For Incandescent Bulbs, Doesn't Ban Them. From Title III of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007:

Subtitle B: Lighting Energy Efficiency - (Sec. 321) Amends EPCA to prescribe energy efficiency standards for general service incandescent lamps, rough service lamps, and other designated lamps.

Directs the Secretary of Energy to: (1) conduct and report to the FTC on an annual assessment of the market for general service lamps and compact fluorescent lamps; and (2) carry out a proactive national program of consumer awareness, information, and education about lamp labels and energy-efficient lighting choices. Authorizes appropriations for FY2009-FY2012.

[...]

Instructs the Secretary of Energy to report to Congress on: (1) federal measures to reduce or prevent release of mercury during the manufacture, transportation, storage, or disposal of light bulbs; (2) whether specified rulemaking deadlines will be met; (3) an NAS review of advanced solid state lighting R&D and the impact upon the types of lighting available to consumers of an energy conservation standard requiring a minimum of 45 lumens per watt for general service lighting; and (4) the time frame for commercialization of lighting to replace incandescent and halogen incandescent lamp technology.

(Sec. 322) Sets forth minimum energy efficiency standards for incandescent reflector lamps.

(Sec. 323) Amends federal law governing congressional approval of proposed public buildings projects to require the Administrator of General Services (GSA) to: (1) transmit to Congress an estimate of the future energy performance of the building or space and a specific description of the use of energy efficient and renewable energy systems, including photovoltaic systems; and (2) include, with respect to space to be leased, the minimum performance requirements for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Sets forth requirements for the use of energy efficient lighting fixtures and bulbs in public building construction, alteration, and acquisition.

(Sec. 324) Amends EPCA to include within its regulatory oversight: (1) metal halide lamp fixtures; and (2) energy efficiency labeling for designated consumer electronic products. [Public Law No. 110-140, 12/19/07]

  • Energy Independence And Security Act Passed Congress With Broad Bipartisan Support; Was Signed Into Law By Bush. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 passed with the support of 95 Republicans in the House and 39 in the Senate. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 19, 2007. [Govtrack.us, accessed 3/4/11]

Philips Electronics Executive: "There Has Been No Ban On The Incandescent Light Bulb." From a December 9, 2010, NPR interview with Philips Electronics VP Randy Moorhead:

SHOGREN: So will the government really take away your choice in light bulbs?

Randy Moorhead, vice president and lobbyist for Philips Electronics, says no.

Mr. RANDY MOORHEAD (Vice President, Philips Electronics): There has been no ban on the incandescent light bulb. The incandescent light bulb actually lives. It's just going to be 30 percent more efficient.

SHOGREN: An energy bill signed by President Bush three years ago requires light bulbs to use at least 30 percent less electricity than traditional bulbs. But Moorhead says in anticipation of the new standards, companies like his have started selling new incandescent bulbs that comply with the law. They're made with a slightly different technology than Thomas Edison's invention. They use halogen gas. Moorhead says consumers won't notice a difference in the way they look or work compared to old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.

Mr. MOORHEAD: They're just going to find their electricity bills are a lot lower. [NPR, 12/9/10]

PolitiFact: "Current Law Does Not Ban Incandescents, But Rather Says Most Light Bulbs Must Meet Increased Efficiency Standards By 2012." Politifact has stated of the Energy Independence and Security Act signed by George W. Bush in 2007:

The current law does not ban incandescents, but rather says most light bulbs must meet increased efficiency standards by 2012. The standards themselves, which were developed later, include several exceptions for incandescent light bulbs, including three-way bulbs, colored lights, bug lights or plant lights. [PolitiFact, 3/6/09]

Manufacturers Are Offering A Wide Variety Of Bulbs, Including Energy-Efficient Incandescents

2007 Energy Bill Reportedly Spurring "Tremendous Amount Of Development." From a January 24 Inquirer column:

Walk down today's lighting aisle, and it's intimidating.

Incandescents. Halogens. CFLs. LEDs. All sizes. All shapes. All colors, from warm white to a crisp bluish tint. And more to come.

So read on for a tour of the ever-burgeoning bulb-land.

"There's a tremendous amount of development," said Brian Fortenbery, an energy efficiency lighting expert with the Electric Power Research Institute, a national nonprofit. "It's not a one-technology game, by any stretch."

Driving the change is a provision in the Energy Independence and Security Act that Congress passed in 2007, during the George W. Bush administration.

It set energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs, which will begin to phase in come Jan. 1, 2012. [Philadelphia Inquirer, GreenSpace, 1/24/11]

GE, Sylvania, Philips All Developing Incandescent Bulbs That Will Meet Efficiency Requirements. According to the New York Times:

When Congress passed a new energy law two years ago, obituaries were written for the incandescent light bulb. The law set tough efficiency standards, due to take effect in 2012, that no traditional incandescent bulb on the market could meet, and a century-old technology that helped create the modern world seemed to be doomed.

But as it turns out, the obituaries were premature.

[...]

Indeed, the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation.

"There's a massive misperception that incandescents are going away quickly," said Chris Calwell, a researcher with Ecos Consulting who studies the bulb market. "There have been more incandescent innovations in the last three years than in the last two decades."

[...]

With the new efficiency standards, experts predict more companies will develop specialized reflective coatings for incandescents. The big three lighting companies -- General Electric, Osram Sylvania and Philips -- are all working on the technology, as is Auer Lighting of Germany and Toshiba of Japan.

And a wave of innovation appears to be coming. David Cunningham, an inventor in Los Angeles with a track record of putting lighting innovations on the market, has used more than $5 million of his own money to develop a reflective coating and fixture design that he believes could make incandescents 100 percent more efficient. [New York Times, 7/5/09]

GE Offers Incandescent Halogen Bulb Which "Operates Up To 22 Percent More Efficiently" Than The Traditional Incandescent Bulb. From a February 14 General Electric press release:

U.S. consumers shopping for light bulbs this Valentine's Day and in the coming months may notice changes on retail store shelves: fewer incandescent bulbs and a wider selection of energy-efficient incandescent halogen bulbs. GE Lighting offers a light bulb that looks like the century-old and beloved incandescent bulb, produces nearly the same light output but operates up to 22 percent more efficiently.

Today, U.S. consumers can find GE's incandescent halogen bulbs--clear and Reveal® clear versions (MSRP $5-$7)--nationwide in two-packs in 29-, 43-, 53- and 72-watt varieties that dim and turn on instantly like their 40-, 60-, 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulb cousins that are phasing out of production between 2012 and 2014 as a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (learn more at www.gelighting.com/2012).

[...]

"A bulb that uses less energy costs less to run," says John Strainic, global product general manager, GE Lighting. "Halogen is an incandescent technology with a big efficiency advantage over standard incandescent bulbs. Each of the bulbs in this line-up consumes fewer watts than the incandescent bulbs we've all used for decades, while delivering a precise dimming capability and a bright, crisp light."

[...]

GE has produced incandescent halogen spotlights and general service light bulbs for accent and general lighting for many years. The technology is in the spotlight now more than ever because governments around the world have instituted new laws that set higher efficiency levels for lighting. The greater efficiency of GE's incandescent halogen bulbs enable them to comply with the lighting efficiency laws on the horizon in the U.S. and globally. [General Electric, 2/14/11]

Detroit News: Stores Feature A Host Of [Bulb] Options That Weren't There Just A Few Years Ago." From an article in the Detroit News titled "Consumers have many options for energy-efficient light bulbs":

Stroll through any store that carries light bulbs these days and you'll find a host of options that weren't there just a few years ago. Next to your old incandescent lights, you'll find twisty-looking compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, cone-shaped light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, or stubby-looking halogens, each offering more energy savings than ever before -- some by more than 75 percent -- while lasting years longer. [Detroit News, 2/13/11]

Home Depot Features Six Varieties Of Bulb Options, Including Incandescent. From Home Depot's light bulb resource page:

Saving Energy at Home
In January 2011, a multi-year phase-out of incandescent bulbs begins as part of the nation's move toward clean energy. Now is the perfect time to try out one of the many energy efficient, long lasting alternatives to standard incandescent light bulbs.

[Home Depot, accessed 3/4/11]

Lowe's: "You Have More Choices Than Ever When It Comes To Buying Light Bulbs." Lowe's "Light Bulb Buying Guide" notes that "[w]ith incandescent, fluorescent, compact fluorescent (CFL) or halogen, you have more choices than ever when it comes to buying light bulbs." [Lowe's, accessed 3/4/11]

Incandescents Are Less Expensive Up Front, But Alternatives Last Longer And Are Much Cheaper To Operate. According to the Sacramento Bee:

At $1 to $2 each, CFLs and halogen bulbs are affordable, but incandescent bulbs are downright cheap. The average price for a four-pack of 60-watt incandescent bulbs is $1.10. But the energy savings from CFLs quickly add up.

"(Incandescents) cost 25 cents a bulb, but $7 to operate" over their lifetime, Home Depot's Fernandez said, "while a CFL costs $1.50, and $1.50 to operate, and they last a lot longer."

Also qualifying under the new standards are LEDs, which offer the greatest efficiency and extremely long life - often decades. LEDs are expensive, $25 a bulb for some brands. But their prices are plummeting as demand goes up.

"We've seen LED prices go down 25 to 30 percent in just the last six months," Fernandez said. [Sacramento Bee, 2/26/11]

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