The light bulb ‘ban’

As you probably know by now, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton has won the race for chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in what Politico calls a “perfect campaign” to defend his record against accusations that he’s not conservative enough.

Relax, man. Black lights aren't being banned. (Photo by mtsofan via Creative Commons)

One of Upton’s votes that drew fire was for the much-misunderstood Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (warning: huge PDF, Wikipedia summary here), popularly known today as the “incandescent light bulb ban.” The bill, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed by President Bush, requires 25 percent greater efficiency for general-purpose light bulbs, which, to be fair, does effectively phase out most household incandescent bulbs.

That has caused some to inaccurately portray the law as a sweeping government “ban” on incandescent bulbs, forcing people to switch to those weirdo CFLs in an act of government oppression unrivaled since the Stamp Act.

In one extreme case, a Daily Caller reader who chose to remain anonymous is stockpiling incandescent bulbs the way people stashed the original Coca-Cola before New Coke was released. “I buy different wattages,” he explains, including 40-watt bulbs, which will still be available after the law takes effect.

In reality (you’ll find I use that phrase a lot on this blog), the law doesn’t ban incandescent bulbs. It makes a long list of exceptions. Including:

  • 40 watt bulbs (or less)
  • Appliance bulbs
  • Bug lights
  • Black lights (hang on to those Pink Floyd posters!)
  • Three-way bulbs
  • “Rough-service” bulbs
  • … and others. The law also includes a host of other energy efficiency measures and, curiously, new federal standards for swimming pool drains.

    The exceptions exist with good reason. Most CFLs, for instance, don’t work with dimmer switches (you can get CFLs that do, but they don’t have as wide a range as incandescent) and because they need to warm up to fully function, they’re not the best for outdoor applications. You’ll still be able to buy halogen bulbs, which have all the advantages of incandescents but use less energy and last longer (I have one in my front porch light), as well as LEDs, which are cost-prohibitive for many people but use a tiny fraction of the energy of a regular bulb.

    Light bulb makers are beginning to push back against some of the more absurd claims about the law. In a story on ClimateWire (subscription required), Randy Moorhead, a VP at Philips Electronics, has this to say:

    “This has been very frustrating … to hear people say incandescent light bulbs were banned. That is absolutely incorrect. People are under the mis-impression that CFLs are their only choice. That is not true.”

    And earlier this year, General Electric fought back against claims by Rep. Joe Barton that the “ban” was forcing the closure of a light bulb factory in Virginia.

    The actual culprit?

    “It’s really consumer buying patterns,” James Campbell of G.E.’s consumer and industrial unit said in a 2007 interview. “We’re really trying to be aggressive here and take the lead, restructuring plants and right-sizing ourselves to leverage what we see in the market.”

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