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Confessions of a Recovering Light Bulb Hoarder

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

I have a horrible confession to make. I'm an environmentalist who's been hoarding old incandescent light bulbs before they become illegal in January. But it was all unnecessary, so I learn.

In 2007, Congress passed a law (signed by President George W. Bush) requiring that light bulbs be 70 percent more efficient by 2020. The tea party opposes all laws that force energy conservation on the public. (I like them.)

My objection to the squiggly "energy savers" is purely aesthetic. I can't stand the way they look.

Anyhow, the right-wingers are hollering that the meanies in Washington are banning the incandescent bulb that Great Grandpa used to light the milking shed. Now, they add, we'll all go mad trying to complete our 30-page tax returns under efficient bulbs that flicker.

Rep. Michele Bachmann remarked, "I think Thomas Edison did a pretty patriotic thing for this country by inventing the light bulb." Quite open-minded of Bachmann to so highly praise the man who said, "Religion is all bunk."

I do use funny-looking compact florescent bulbs in the laundry room, where their raw illumination keeps me from tripping over the giant box of Tide. Nice, older light bulbs go everywhere else.

Hence, my secret stockpiling.

Then I heard a voice from the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The big news is that you don't have to do that," Jim Presswood, the NRDC's federal energy policy director, informed me over the phone.

Pray tell. Firstly, it is not true that the law bans incandescent bulbs. It just requires that they become more energy efficient. In fact, General Electric, Philips and Sylvania already sell incandescent bulbs that meet the new standards, while producing light and color similar to the old 100-watt bulb. (And the new squiggles flicker far less than they used to.) Meanwhile, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs can make light equivalent to the old 60-watt bulbs while using only 12 watts. GE makes one that looks like the bulbs piled up in my back closet.

And the expense? At $1.50, an incandescent Philips EcoVantage bulb costs about $1 more than the old-fashioned kind. Both typically last 18 months. But, Presswood explains, the EcoVantage's energy savings make up that price difference in seven months. "The rest of the time, you're making money."

Speed the day, I said. When fully implemented in 2020, the new lighting efficiency standards should shave $85 off the average American household's annual electric bill. The national energy savings would total $12.5 billion a year and eliminate the need for 30 new large power plants. 

So where's the problem? In Congress. House Republicans just tried to overturn the new energy standards but lacked the needed two-thirds majority. However, their amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill to deny the money for enforcing the law passed in a simple majority voice vote.

Texas, meanwhile, voted to exempt any light bulb made and sold in the state from the federal law. The courts may have another idea. But to any Texan who wants to make inefficient light bulbs that cost consumers more money, I say, "Knock yourself out."

Republicans fancy themselves business's protector from changing regulations. Well, the big bulb manufacturers have already retooled their factories to meet the law's requirements, and now Republicans want to pull the rug out.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has issued a statement complaining that repeal of the standards "would strand millions of dollars in investments, provide a marketplace advantage to companies who have not made similar investments, create regulatory uncertainty, and increase energy consumption in the United States."

Don't blame me. I'm a recovering light-bulb warehouser. May other Americans see the same light.



Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.   Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

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