GOP lawmakers call light bulb mandate a dim idea

AP News
Posted: Mar 10, 2011 4:50 PM
GOP lawmakers call light bulb mandate a dim idea

Sen. Mike Enzi has a dim view of a federal law requiring light bulbs to be more efficient.

The Wyoming Republican is pushing a bill to repeal the 2007 law and give consumers the choice to buy any light bulbs they want.

"Government doesn't need to be in the business of telling people what light bulb they have to use," Enzi said. "If left alone, the best bulb will win its rightful standing in the marketplace."

Twenty-seven senators _ all Republicans _ support the bill, but many Democrats and consumer groups say the plan is not so bright. They call it a step backward and compare it to trading in a fuel-efficient hybrid car for a gas-guzzling SUV.

Enzi's bill, and related measures in the House, "would push aside innovation, derail plans for new job-creating lighting factories and eliminate an estimated $10 billion in annual energy costs savings _ taking as much as $200 per year out of the checkbooks of every U.S. household," said Bob Keefe, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that backs the 2007 law.

Despite some GOP claims to the contrary, the 2007 law does not ban traditional incandescent light bulbs. Instead it requires new bulbs to use 25 to 30 percent less energy beginning in 2012. The rules call for further improvements in efficiency by 2014. The new standards have already taken effect in California.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs that are now widely available cut energy costs by as much as 75 percent and have proved popular with the public, Keefe said. A February poll by USA Today found that nearly three out of four Americans have purchased energy-efficient light bulbs and 84 percent said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with them.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, said the new bulbs last longer, use less energy and save money.

Howard Brandston, a lighting consultant from upstate New York, said government should not tell consumers how to light their homes.

At a hearing Thursday before the Senate energy panel, Brandston said compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, a potential health risk. Plastic jackets intended to protect the consumer are inadequate _ "a total cop-out to protect the manufacturer," Brandston said.

Brandston also warned that the new bulbs could cause a fire if installed improperly or in a lamp that cannot accommodate them, saying: "Save energy by incinerating part of your home."

Keefe called that argument a scare tactic and said there is more mercury in a typical watch battery than a compact fluorescent bulb.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, was not in the Senate when the energy mandate was approved and signed by President George W. Bush. Risch called the law "absolutely ludicrous," adding, "People in Idaho are just astonished that the federal government is telling them what kind of light bulbs to put in their homes."