Last week I opened the Guardian website to twice find news on the Republican efforts to repeal a law that promotes the use of energy-saving lightbulbs in US households. While I tend not to agree with most measures supported by the Republican Party, I was still shocked by this particular one. Energy-saving lightbulbs? What the hell is wrong with energy-saving lightbulbs?!
Well, according to Tea-Party supporter and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, and talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, energy-saving lightbulbs are an assault on personal freedom and an insult to the inventor of traditional 100 watt bulbs, Thomas Edison.
The lightbulb fight has its roots on a 2007 law promoting energy efficiency. The law, initially supported by Republicans and signed by George Bush, was aimed at raising efficiency standards of conventional lightbulbs by more than 25% by 2012. It is supported by manufacturers, such as Philips and General Electric, who have already spent considerable amounts retooling their factories to produce more efficient LED and compact fluorescent bulbs.
Tea Party supports, however, have (misleadingly) publicized the law as a ban on the old Edison bulb. Radio host Rush Limbaugh went as far as saying that “They’re coming for your lightbulbs, America, and you’ll be forced to fill your house with those weird, screwy things,” according to Jon Winsor writing for The Intersection.
Does Limbaugh know how much better, environmentally and economically, those “weird, screwy things” are? Yes, they do cost more than the old-fashion bulbs. But they last about 50% longer and are more efficient, meaning they provide the same amount of light for a fraction of the energy consumed by traditional lightbulbs. In all, they are expected to save each American household $100 to $200 per year. According to Reuters, they also “prevent 100 million tons of heat-trapping gases from being spewed into the air” (the equivalent of emissions from 17 million cars).
The ballon-shaped bulbs will still be available, but they will either be more efficient incandescent (traditional) lamps or LEDs designed to look like old-fashioned bulbs. The California-based Switch Lightning, for example, has come up with a LED bulb that imitates the glow of an incandescent lamp. Far from being a threat to personal freedom, the new standards have driven advances in lighting technology that are giving consumers more choice than ever.
As for the argument that the 2007 law would be an affront to Thomas Edison, his great-grandsons Barry Edison Sloane, Heywood Soane and David Edison Sloane weighted in to provide an opposite view. According to Reuters, Edison’s descendants agreed that he “would have been appalled that any legislative body would be narrow-minded enough to discourage advanced light bulb technology.”
Even though arguments to repeal the 2007 law are unfunded, Republicans declared “victory for freedom” when the House of Representatives voted to remove all funding from government programs promoting energy-efficient bulbs. Fortunately, the measure is unlikely to pass in the Senate where Democrats are mobilizing against it. The White House has also indicated it will oppose any effort to repeal the 2007 law.
Some Republicans are with the Senate Democrats and Obama on this. Jim DiPeso, policy director with Republicans for Environmental Protection, said (in an interview to SolveClimate news) about the proposal to repeal the law: “It’s a daffy solution in search of a non-existent problem. There is no ban and there never has been one. It’s the same quality of service, lower costs and more consumer choices than ever. What is there not to like?”