It's Not Too Late to Save Your Stupid Old Light Bulbs

Last night the House of Representatives passed a spending-bill amendment aimed at preventing the Energy Department from enforcing the federal efficiency standards that require the phaseout of conventional incandescent light bulbs. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the phaseout was supposed to begin in January 2012 with a ban on 100-watt bulbs, but a spending bill approved last December delayed enforcement until this October. The amendment passed yesterday, which was introduced by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), would give incandescent bulbs a one-year reprieve. The Better Use of Light Bulbs Act—introduced by another Texas Republican, Joe Barton—would repeal the bulb ban altogether. Last July it received majority support in the House but fell short of the two-thirds vote necessary to pass a bill on a motion to "suspend the rules," a process that limits debate and bars amendments. Because of the procedure used, according to Govtrack, Barton can try again before the end of the current session.

Like Michael Bloomberg's 16-ounce limit on soda servings, these light bulb regulations override consumer choices that the government deems foolish—in this case, accepting lower efficiency (and higher electricity costs) in exchange for much lower prices, greater versatility, and performance that is better in some respects. (Incandescents go on right away, for instance, while the next cheapest alternative, compact fluorescent lamps, often need to warm up; others complain about the quality of the light from CFLs, although that's not as big a deal to me.) While I object to both the beverage rule and the lighting restrictions on principle, the light bulb ban is more personally irksome to me, because I have not lived in New York City since 2001 and in any case generally avoid sugar-sweetened soft drinks. I would be happy to purchase the bulbs the Energy Department thinks I should have if they worked better than they do and did not cost so much. But my experience with CFLs has been that they cost a lot more, do not last nearly as long as advertised, and do not perform the basic function of quickly illuminating a room nearly as well. LEDs may be better, but they are at this point absurdly expensive. Halogen bulbs and the new, extra-efficient incandescents are not quite as pricey, but they still cost around 10 times as much as the banned bulbs.

I may be paying more for electricity than I otherwise would (not a whole lot more, according to the Energy Department's calculations), but I am willing to accept that tradeoff, and so are most Americans, to judge by the market penetration of the newer, more efficient bulbs before the government decided to legally mandate this transition. (If the newer products really were indisputably better in every respect, why would the government have to force people to buy them?) So it really irritates me when I'm told either that I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to products that I use every day or that my preferences are stupid. Even if they were, I should have a right to be stupid with my own money and my own house.

Previous coverage of the light bulb ban here. An incandescent elegy:

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  • Robert||

    If the newer products really were indisputably better in every respect, why would the government have to force people to buy them?


    I think this may be one of those cases where gov't is trying to make the market. That'd be based on the assumption that new bulbs of an existing or future kind would be made that would be as good as or better than the old, provided that volume of business were generated by first banning the old. I don't think it's true in this case, but that may be their thinking.

  • Robert||

    Oh, yeah...wurst!

  • lighthouse||

    Apart from the "Bureaucrats know Best" considerations, that hardly holds anyway:
    Standards have to take into account what ALREADY exists, or consumers might be left in the dark.
    Halogens, CFLs, LEDs.. all invented in the presence - not the absence - of competition from simple incandescents, similarly with other useful (note, useful) energy saving inventions throughout history.

    Also, that assumes Government intentions alone:
    Light bulb manufacturers pushed for bans on patent expired simple cheap light bulbs (being rather like "generic medicine") to sell complex patented profitable alternatives, a profitability argument they have themselves admitted ( http://ceolas.net/#li12ax )
    Or just simply ask yourself,
    why do they welcome being told what they can or can't make? ;-)

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    I should have a right to be stupid with my own money and my own house.

    Well, see now....that's where you're wrong...

  • Zeb||

    Try building a house for yourself and see how much of a right to be stupid with your own property and money you have.

  • Spiny Norman||

    Of course, if you live in California, you'll still have the state law, even if the federal one is repealed.

  • SIV||

    Hey! Isn't the incandescent light bulb ban just a meaningless culture war proxy battle?

  • lighthouse||

    hardly...see the latest comment

  • Joe R.||

    I bought a gross before the ban hit. I should be good until the market creates something better.

  • lighthouse||

    Another solution...legal in Texas!
    Gov Perry legalized federally banned incandescent manufacture and sale in Texas in June 2011
    Gov Haley in South Carolina due to consider a similar bill.
    Update on federal regulations and 10 US state repeal ban bills on http://ceolas.net#bills

  • Combaticus||

    The Better Use of Light Bulbs Act. The BULB Act. Please, Reason, uncover how much money is spent every year on coming up with disturbingly on-the-nose acronyms for new bills.

  • Public Citizzen||

    Let us not forget the suspense and anticipation [anxiety?] that the wonderful CFL bulbs generate when they CATCH FIRE.
    I had that happen twice. After the second time I instituted a household ban on them. I don't need the level of additional excitement that having the fire department try to extinguish a conflagration caused by a crappy GE lighting device that costs 5 times as much and lasts less than half as long as advertised [if it doesn't catch fire].
    BTW ever tried to get a CFL to work in a 3 way socketed lamp?

  • lighthouse||

    Correct..
    ironically CFLs (and LEDs, incidentally), unlike incandescents "really" waste energy as heat, 80%,
    which is internalized rather than usefully radiated, thereby increasing the fire risk especially of CFLs, as referenced http://ceolas.net/#li18eax

  • pet winkel||

    So it really irritates me when I'm told either that I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to products that I use every day or that my preferences are stupid. Even if they were, I should have a right to be stupid with my own money and my own house.

  • Alan||

    I dislike the incandescent ban - but I really like the new LED bulbs.

    I know the LED bulbs are still expensive, but they are not insane expensive like they were a few years ago, when an advertised "40 watt equivalent" was really giving off about 10 watts worth of light, and costing $70. The new "40 watt equivalents" actually give off a little bit more light than an incandescent (about 450 lumens), and are presently in the $16 to $20 range, with prices expected to fall quickly. Almost all the new bulbs are instant-on and dimmable, and I've seen colors ranging from 2700K (about the same as an incandescent) to 5000K (not quite daylight). There are also some good 60 watt equivalents now available (around 850 lumens) for about $30.

    One important thing about LED bulbs: they should not be installed in closed fixtures - which is to say, they require ventilation.

  • lighthouse||

    How regulations on buildings, cars, washing machines, light bulbs etc are wrong, whether from right or left wing ideology:
    To begin with, energy savings are not the ONLY reason for choosing products to use and energy savings compromise product characteristics as well as increasing price - and overall energy savings are questionable anyway.

    Taking the light bulb example:
    Society energy usage savings are only around 1% of grid energy use on DoE etc stats as referenced below, with much more relevant generation, grid distribution and alternative consumption savings - and that is still not counting the manufacture, transport and recycle energy use of the more complex alternatives.

    Certainly, consumers can make some usage savings from switching their most commonly used bulbs.
    However, Society laws are presumably made for Society savings as mentioned, rather than clamping down on what light bulb Johnny wants to use in his bedroom.
    Besides, the personal choice of paid-for product use is hardly
    "wasting energy", compared to unnecessarily leaving products on.
    (continued)

  • lighthouse||

    (continued)
    Even if light bulbs - or other products - had to be targeted,
    market competition or taxation policies are more relevant
    (the latter can pay for price lowering subsidies on alternatives
    as well as giving Govmt income - hello California),
    with both policies not just keeping choice, but also being better at promoting innovation and saving more energy overall
    http://freedomlightbulb.org
    "The deception behind arguments used to ban light bulbs"

  • lighthouse||

    Alternative link to the above
    put .com instead of .org after Freedomlightbulb

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