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Why Republicans are fighting to save the 30-cent light bulb

House Republicans are attempting to repeal energy-efficiency standards that would phase out the least efficient – and least expensive – incandescent light bulbs. They see the regulations as another example of government meddling.

By Staff writer / July 11, 2011

In this Jan. 21 file photo, manager Nick Reynoza holds a 100-watt incandescent light bulb at Royal Lighting in Los Angeles. In an attempt to cut energy consumption, federal laws will soon prohibit the sale of inefficient incandescent bulbs. California began the process early, starting its phase-out last month. The rest of the country will begin next year.

Jae C. Hong / AP / File

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Under a "Bring Back the Bulb" banner, Republicans in the House of Representatives will debate legislation on Monday to roll back energy-efficiency standards, thereby permitting Thomas Edison's original, highly inefficient incandescent light bulb to continue being sold next year.

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But were the bulbs ever actually banned? The bipartisan legislation, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2007, sought to boost lighting efficiency and save on energy costs by requiring lightbulbs be more efficient, not by banning any particular style of bulb – part of a long-term government energy efficiency process that has enjoyed both parties' support for decades. Now, that support is dimming, as "nanny-government" critics complain Americans are so hen-pecked by bureaucrats that they can't even buy a simple old light bulb.

“This is about more than just energy consumption, it is about personal freedom," Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas, the new bill's sponsor, said in a statement earlier this year. "Voters sent us a message in November that it is time for politicians and activists in Washington to stop interfering in their lives and manipulating the free market. The light bulb ban is the perfect symbol of that frustration. People don’t want Congress dictating what light fixtures they can use.”

Incandescent bulbs are certainly popular, burning in most of the 3-4 billion screw-in sockets in US homes and businesses, the US Department of Energy reports. But are their days numbered?

"The incandescent light bulb is not being banned, contrary to common misconceptions," says Randall Moorehead, vice president of government affairs for Philips Electronics North America. "Americans are not being forced to buy compact florescent lights. The only thing people are going to notice about their incandescent light bulb is that their electricity bill is going to go down."

Don’t tell that to those who have picked up the light-bulb-ban banner.

“The American people have voiced overwhelming opposition to the light bulb ban, and the House of Representatives has started to listen,” said Myron Ebell, director of Freedom Action, a group sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in a statement. “Freedom Action urges every House member to vote Yes on Rep. Joe Barton’s bill to overturn the ban enacted in 2007 on standard incandescent bulbs.”

Debate on the light-bulb bill is expected on the House floor Monday. Under a suspension of the rules, a floor vote is expected tomorrow that would require a two-thirds majority to succeed. Even if it does succeed, it would need to pass the Senate and be signed by the president – a very dubious prospect. It is possible, however, that the issue could reemerge as a rider to a budget bill or a bargaining chip in debt negotiations, analysts say.

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