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: