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.
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"It's going to be a close vote in the House," says one lighting industry official who asked not to be named. "Even if this bill goes down, it could end up as a rider."Skip to next paragraph
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So were the bulbs banned or not?
Contrary to claims frequently made by conservative talk radio, bloggers, and some news media outlets, incandescent light bulbs are not actually being "banned." Incandescent bulbs with newer, more efficient technology will still be for sale, because the 2007 law does not single out any particular lighting technology. It only requires light bulbs to meet higher levels of efficiency if they are to be sold.
Under that law, general-purpose light bulbs must become about 30 percent more energy efficient. Different bulb classes face different deadlines, all between 2012 and 2014. The old Edison bulb gets killed on January 1, 2012. But more-efficient incandescent bulbs, which use only 72 watts to give the same output as an old 100-watt Edison bulb, will still be sold.
While Edison bulbs today are about 30-50 cents apiece, updated versions cost $1.50. But the latter pay for themselves in energy savings in about six months.
The old incandescent bulb is clearly an energy hog. Just 5 percent of the electricity it uses lights the bulb – the rest ends up as heat.
If all homes and businesses used bulbs 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, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
"Constituents in some districts are concerned because they are hearing that incandescent bulbs are being banned," says Jim Presswood, federal energy policy director for the NRDC. "It's not true. But a lot of activists on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and conservative bloggers are finding it a great issue for them. There's a lot of interest among tea party conservatives and anti-government people driving it."
What about American jobs?
With news that the incandescent bulbs actually are not being banned beginning to be recognized on Capitol Hill, the legislative argument is shifting now more toward the jobs issue – with claims that the efficiency rules are sending jobs overseas. A large General Electric plant in Winchester, Va., that produced conventional bulbs closed last fall, putting 200 workers out of their jobs.
But that basic bulb business was already rapidly being phased out in the US, ceding to ever-lower-cost producers in China and elsewhere – even as domestic job growth has picked up strongly with new technology lighting, industry officials say.
"Phillips is actually adding jobs in the US, in the area of energy-efficicent lighting," Mr. Moorehead says. "The major component for our EcoVantage bulb is made in New York and light emitting diodes for our LED bulbs are made in California. There's a growing workforce in both of those areas."