How Many Politicians Does it Take to NOT Screw in a Light Bulb?

New light bulbsThe signing of the federal budget for 2012 marked the latest effort by Republicans to forestall the coming legislation that will begin the phase out of the traditional incandescent bulb. The time and energy spent on debating a law that was signed into being 4 years ago under a Republican President exemplifies the misdirected focus of our elected officials not to mention their blatant disregard (or ignorance) of efficiency’s importance. Thankfully, their tribulations are unlikely to have any material effect on the movement that the forces of American capitalism have been welling behind for years now.

Despite not being able to actually repeal the legislation that was signed into law by President Bush in 2007, conservatives were able to attach a rider to the budget bill that restricted the Department of Energy to no spend any money on the law’s enforcement. Very tricky. So essentially they are trying to send the message, “It’s okay small business owners. Go break the law and sell 100w incandescent bulbs because no one can come after you for it.” Despite the odd spin on the duties of our legislative branch the republicans have likely missed their window.

“Bottom line, the standards are moving forward unabated,” said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has promoted the standards. A NY Times article touches on industry officials saying that momentum has been transforming the industry for years and turning the ship around now would cause more harm than good. The industry has spent time and money on new products to meet the upcoming regulations. Revoking the law would simply create uncertainty in the retail marketplace for suppliers and distributors. According to NPR, Jaclyn Pardini, a spokeswoman for Lowe’s home improvement stores, said the company “is committed to abiding by the [original] legislation and it does not change our plan” to stop selling 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.

Why Are We Having This Conversation Anyway?

It may be par for the course for disgruntled politicians to make something out of nothing in order to start a debate, but in this case they are making something meaningless out of something incredibly positive. The evolution of our lighting technology is a win-win situation for Americans. For a society that is loathe to become more sustainable if it impedes the normal ebb and flow of daily life this represents an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in energy consumption that carries no residual burden on consumers or their lifestyles. According to the Department of Energy, lighting makes up 6% of the energy we use in our homes and 10-15% of the electricity. Lowering that number by 28% for the country is something worth pursuing.

We are not the only ones making the move either. In fact, we are pulling up the rear of the pack. Brazil and Venezuela started their phase outs in 2005. In 2009, the E.U., Switzerland and Australia started peeling the incandescent out of circulation. In 2012, China, Russia and Canada will be joining our movement away from traditional bulbs. I’m struggling to see the logic in the preservation of a wasteful, antiquated technology while the better part of the world is stepping ahead. For all of the fingers we point at China for their lethargy in sustainability it would be unfortunate if they could make this change but we could not.

This is all in addition to the fact that manufacturers have already solved the problem of appearance and light quality for American consumers. Not up to making the jump to CFLs or LEDs yet? No problem. This is America. If there is something that people are willing to pay money for then corporations are here to make it happen. Halogen bulbs, now in full scale production, give people exactly the same light quality and color as their older brethren so that most people could never tell the difference.

Save Personal Freedoms!

Supposedly, this is being touted as an affront on personal freedoms because it restricts the choices of what light bulbs people can freely purchase. Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann had to say:

“Let me tell you, President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want in the United States of America.”

Bold words, Congresswoman. I am curious though… would President Bachmann also allow me to buy whatever hot water heater, boiler or air conditioning unit I wanted? How about whatever car or gasoline? These are all items that carry efficiency standards by the federal government in order to promote energy savings for the country. The fact that the Department of Energy regulates these items for quality and performance is the only thing that has kept our average household energy consumption stable for the past 40 years. If having ethanol content in gasoline is not strangling American freedom, then why are light bulbs exactly? Government regulation put in place to help the free market progress from pure consumption is as old as it is necessary. Why? Because the market doesn’t take us there on our own; because we are a country of avid consumers, not informed consumers.

The free market is adept at finding ways to produce anything for as little as possible, but it’s not quite as good at finding the most responsible solution and turning it into a product. The low cost solution for anything is low cost for a reason and unless consumers want to bother to get educated about what the repercussions of low-cost solutions are then the market has to be tempered with regulation to balance out the results. Whether it is EnergyStar, CAFE or light bulb efficiency standards, their purpose is not to hinder business, but promote the evolution of the marketplace.

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