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Light bulbs in spotlight as senators lambaste US efficiency standards

A Senate hearing on Thursday produced fireworks over light bulbs, as conservatives urged repeal of US energy-efficiency standards they see as anticonsumer and paternalistic.

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"We are proud that our industry is one of the very few US industries that enjoys an over $2 billion positive balance of trade," said Stephen Yurek, president of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, a trade association. "We build equipment here in North America and export it to nations around the world." The manufacturing side of the industry, he said, accounts for 250,000 American jobs, plus 1 million more maintainance, distribution, and installation jobs.

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Light bulb makers have a similar story, said Kyle Pitsor of the National Electric Manufacturers Association (NEMA). The BULB bill would be bad for US light bulb makers, who have already upgraded factories to meet new standards and would face a patchwork of state regulations if the uniform federal 2007 standard were rolled back, he said.

"NEMA does not support its repeal," said Mr. Pitsor. "It's a common misunderstanding, but these standards do not ban incandescent bulbs, nor do they mandate the use of compact fluorescent bulbs.... Consumers will still be able to purchase a general service incandescent bulb," but one that will be 28 percent more efficient.

The old incandescent bulb is definitely an energy hog: Just 5 percent of the electricity it uses goes to light the bulb and the rest produces heat. Incandescent bulbs are burning in most of the 3 billion to 4 billion screw-in sockets in US homes and businesses, the US Department of Energy reports. New-style bulbs generally cost more, but they also last longer.

If all homes and businesses used bulbs that are 35 to 75 percent more efficient, they would collectively save almost $10 billion a year in energy costs. The switch would cut energy demand enough to eliminate the need to build dozens of coal-fired power plants, adds the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

"The federal appliance and equipment efficiency standards program is a great energy-efficiency success story, with Congress adopting new standards in each of the last three decades on a bipartisan basis," Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, said in his prepared remarks. And it has been popular, too.

Despite negative publicity about an incandescent lamp “ban,” a recent USA Today survey found that 61 percent of Americans said the 2007 legislation was a "good" law versus 31 percent who called it "bad," he said.

SPECIAL REPORT: The future of energy


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