How Many Congressmen Does It Take To Screw Up a Light Bulb?

Taking Care of the Medium Screw Base

The BULB Act – for “Better Use of Light Bulbs” – is the latest bright idea from Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who last year apologized to BP during the Gulf oil spill and more recently questioned whether there is any “medical negative” from mercury or other dangerous air pollutants.

This is a dim-watted bill.  The BULB Act would repeal the federal lighting efficiency standards that Congress adopted on a bipartisan basis in its 2007 energy legislation, signed by President George W. Bush. The bill would also block any state from setting standards to cut how much juice is used by “medium screw base general service incandescent lamps.”  It would even block states from setting building construction standards that incorporate efficient lighting.

The 2007 energy law ordered a make-over for the old incandescent bulb, which hadn’t much changed since the days of Thomas Edison, and which wastes billions of dollars of electricity each year.  Instead of padding the bottom lines of big power companies and companies that supply coal, natural gas, and other fuels, the new standards will keep those billions in consumers’ pockets.  All that wasted electricity means more pollution that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year, sickens millions more, and drives dangerous global warming. 

So to cut electricity use, save consumers money, and reduce pollution, the 2007 law requires new light bulbs made starting in 2012 to use less electricity.  Contrary to all the over-amped hype, the 2007 law does not ban the incandescent bulb and force everyone to use compact fluorescents.  The law requires only that manufacturers make bulbs more efficient.  And rising to the challenge, bulb manufacturers are already making a variety of bulbs that meet the new standards, including incandescent bulbs that are 28-33 percent more efficient than the traditional incandescent bulb.  In the bargain, they’ve also created more than 2,000 new jobs at American manufacturing facilities.

These sensible standards will save American families $100 per household every year – $12 billion overall – money they surely can put to good use, especially in these hard times.  These standards also will cut all forms of power plant pollution, avoiding the equivalent of 30 large power plants.  That includes avoiding 100 million tons per year of dangerous carbon pollution, equivalent to the emissions of 17 million cars.

Barton, being a staunch defender of big energy companies and polluters, couldn’t give two cents for consumer savings and public health.  No, for Barton and other BULB Act backers, this is a crusade for “personal liberty.”

They’ll have to pry that bulb from my cold dead hand. 

There is, however, no Constitutional right to keep and arm bulbs.

Fortunately, no matter how the House votes on this, the BULB Act will never become law.  Like so many other ideological bills passed by the House this year, this one will not see the artificial light of day in the Senate.

This is all about pandering to the House members’ angry conservative constituency.  But if I were playing to the Tea Party, I’d be careful about bills using the terms “medium screw base.”

About the Authors

David Doniger

Director, Climate & Clean Air program

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