Bloomberg News

Light Bulb Battle Pits Tea Party Against Manufacturers

May 16, 2012

General Electric Co. bulbs sit on a shelf at the Kennedy Webster Electric Co. warehouse in Downers Grove, Illinois, U.S. in 2011. The 100-watt incandescent light bulb has become a pear-shaped symbol of personal freedom to some Republicans. Photographer: DanielAcker/Bloomberg

General Electric Co. bulbs sit on a shelf at the Kennedy Webster Electric Co. warehouse in Downers Grove, Illinois, U.S. in 2011. The 100-watt incandescent light bulb has become a pear-shaped symbol of personal freedom to some Republicans. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The Department of Energy would continue to be barred from enforcing new energy efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs under a planned House amendment that pits bulb manufacturers against the tea party movement.

The amendment, which Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) has vowed to introduce to an upcoming appropriations bill, would prohibit funding to enforce standards that require the 100-watt light bulb, and eventually other bulbs, to be about 30 percent more efficient.

Bulb manufacturers, who say they have spent millions of dollars retooling factories to comply with the standards, oppose measures such as Burgess's, saying they open the door for imports of cheaper, less efficient bulbs.

“A rider to the appropriations bill that defunds enforcement would punish American companies and put American jobs at risk,” said Joseph Higbee, a spokesman for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which represents General Electric Co., Osram Sylvania Inc., and other light bulb makers.

Environmental Groups Back Standards

Environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, also defend the standards, which they say could avoid about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year and save $10 billion annually. They say the standards do not constitute a ban on incandescent bulbs because incandescent bulbs that incorporate halogen and other technologies can pass muster.

“Looks like House Republicans are once again gearing up for battle against—of all things— light bulbs that save consumers money, curb energy waste, and reduce pollution,” NRDC spokesman Bob Keefe said in an email.

Though the light bulb standards had bipartisan support when they were included in broad energy legislation that passed in 2007, they have since become a symbol of government overreach for the tea party and many congressional Republicans.

“I think that many people feel it is a personal intrusion into their lives by government,” said Myron Ebell, director of Freedom Action. His grass-roots political group supports the tea party goals of smaller government and less regulation and is associated with the Competitive Enterprise Institute free-market think tank.

Opponents of the light bulb standards also argue that many of the alternatives to incandescent light bulbs produce a poorer quality of light and are more expensive.

These include Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who in 2011 told an Energy Department official that efficiency standards were the reason for his home's broken commodes.

"I blame you," he told Kathleen Hogan, the department's deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency, during a hearing on the standards held by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Measure Would Extend Enforcement Ban

The Burgess amendment would extend a provision previously passed in Congress to bar fiscal year 2013 funds from being used to enforce the light bulb efficiency standards, said Rob Mosher, director of government relations for the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy.

Burgess, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and part of the tea party movement, said in an interview, “The world didn't come to an end when it passed last time, and people are able to have some freedom in the light bulbs they buy, so why not keep it going?”

He said he would offer his amendment to a pending $32.1 billion appropriations bill (H.R. 5325) that would fund the Department of Energy and other agencies, expected to be considered by the House in the coming weeks.

In addition to the standard for the 100-watt incandescent light bulb that went into effect in 2012, efficiency standards require a 30 percent improvement in 75-watt light bulbs by 2013 and a 30 percent improvement in 40-watt and 60-watt light bulbs by 2014.

Ari Natter covers energy efficiency and renewables for Bloomberg BNA and the World Climate Change Report blog.

Visit www.bloomberg.com/sustainability for the latest from Bloomberg News about energy, natural resources and global business.


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