Incandescent light bulbs live to see another day

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenDecember 23, 2011
Congress didn't just agree to keep the government's lights on through the rest of the fiscal year.

It is also ensuring it has the option of doing so with energy-sucking incandescent 100-watt bulbs.

Under a law that President Bush signed in 2007, the Department of Energy on Jan. 1, 2012, was to begin enforcing new efficiency standards for the incandescent bulbs that Thomas Edison invented 132 years ago.
Energy-sucking incandescent light bulbs were supposed to be phased out in the New Year.

But the House and Senate's massive spending bill to yet again avert a federal government shutdown includes a rider that will prevent the light bulb rules from taking effect until at least October. Proponents of the light bulb legislation promote it as an easy and logical way to improve the nation's energy efficiency but, to others, the law smacks of textbook government overreach.

Aficionados of the pear-shaped lights are stocking up on them at Home Depot — which reports light bulb sales are up 10 to 20 percent over a year ago — and elsewhere before they fade away. Down in Texas, the legislature passed a bill permitting the manufacture and sale of the traditional bulbs within its borders even though there is not a single light bulb factory in the state.

Over the summer, a bill to repeal the energy efficiency standards died in the House. Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter, all Colorado Democrats, opposed it. Reps. Scott Tipton, Doug Lamborn, Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman, all Colorado Republicans, favored it.

Now there is a reprieve for the incandescent bulbs but it may be too little, too late.

Even if Republicans are successful in further pushing back the efficiency standards that the incandescent bulbs don't meet, the industry is already moving forward with a focus on compact fluorescent, halogen and light-emitting diode models. With many of the world's other leading nations also phasing out the old energy-guzzling bulbs, companies are investing in newer technologies.

Democrats, along with light bulb manufacturers such as General Electric Co., and environmentalists are urging for new rules to take effect sooner than later, citing energy and cost savings.

"If America is to have a rational energy policy, we need to make progress in efficiency," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico, said in a prepared statement. "Blocking funds to enforce minimum standards works against our nation getting the full benefits of energy efficiency."

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