Congress tries to turn off lights on bulb mandates

Texas Republican Michael Burgess just won another round in his fight against federal standards that could force consumers to abandon inefficient incandescent light bulbs for more expensive LED and fluorescent alternatives.

The House voted Wednesday to adopt an amendment by Burgess that would bar the Energy Department from using any funds to implement efficiency standards for light bulbs, six years after Congress first mandated the change.

The provision in a 2007 energy law was designed to encourage manufacturers to produce more energy efficient light bulbs; although it didn’t rule out traditional incandescents, they would need a redesign to qualify under the new standards.

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In response, manufacturers rolled out new bulbs that require less electricity, and over time, they have revamped them to have more aesthetic appeal.

LED and fluorescent models offer the promise of electricity bill savings over time and fewer lightbulb changes, since they have a longer lifespan. LED lights can last more than a decade. But some consumers criticize the quality of the light and the occasionally bulkier bodies of the newer alternatives, which may look garish poking out of chandeliers and other fixtures.

Burgess complained that the price of the replacements still hasn’t dropped, with some models fetching as much as $50.  “The technology is still years off in making light bulbs that are compliant with the 2007 law and at a price point that the average American can afford,” he said on the House floor.

He cast the 2007 mandate as Big Brother intruding into the living rooms — and light fixtures — of everyday Americans.

“If the new energy-efficient light bulbs save money and if they’re better for the environment, we should trust our constituents to make the choice on their own toward these bulbs,” he said. “Let the market decide. We should not be forcing these light bulbs on the American people.”

Burgess’ amendment was adopted by a voice vote, the same fate in the past two years. It was added to a broad spending bill that doles federal dollars to the Energy Department. The measure now heads to the Senate, which has its own competing version.

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Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, noted that American lighting manufacturers have committed to abiding by the standards, even if the Energy Department is barred from enforcing them. As a result, she said, Burgess’ proposal ends up giving an edge to foreign manufacturers producing old-school incandescents.

“The only benefit of this ill-informed rider is to allow foreign manufacturers who may not feel a similar obligation to import non-compliant light bulbs that will not only harm the investments made by U.S. companies, but place at risk the U.S. manufacturing jobs associated with making compliant bulbs,” she said.

And Kaptur stressed that the incandescent light bulb lives on, in newer, more-efficient designs.

“As a result of the 2007 law, manufacturers already are making a variety of new energy-saving bulbs for homes, including more efficient incandescent bulbs,” she said on the House floor. “These bulbs look like and turn on like the bulbs we have been using for decades, but are upwards of 28 to 33 percent more efficient. And that’s good for everyone.”

Previously, the design of incandescent light bulbs had changed little since it was first introduced more than a century ago.