Incandescent light bulbs, which have been in use in the United States for more than a century, are on their way out in the new year. The federal government has prohibited their manufacture and import starting Wednesday.
The latest ban covers 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs. The 100-watt and 75-watt varieties had already been phased out. The bans were signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007 as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act.
Opponents of the law protest that the government is making decisions for consumers rather than letting the marketplace determine the products people want.
“When we make a purchase, it’s about quality, price, how much money we have now, can I use that money for a better investment? I don’t need the government to say that I am making the incorrect decision and therefore I should buy energy-efficient products,” said Daren Bakst, research fellow in agricultural policy at the Heritage Foundation.
He decries the light-bulb ban as representing heightened government overreach.
“The light-bulb issue is about a complete ban of a product. It’s overkill. Now you have something you can no longer buy. That’s really indefensible,” he said.
“Forget about choice. It’s basically saying not only can you not make smart choices, we have so little faith in you that we will make sure you can’t buy those goods anymore.
“Here you have a central-planning bureaucrat that knows everything, saying we’re going to make sure you do the right thing. Granted, Congress passed the law, but this looks like the state knows better than the public does,” Bakst said.
The prohibition has also led to U.S. job losses, as factories that made incandescent bulbs have been forced to close.
Because of the ban, General Electric closed a factory with 200 employees in Winchester, Va., that was the last major incandescent manufacturing facility in the United States. Now the work is going to places such as China, where some of the new compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are made.
Energy efficiency experts say the new light bulbs benefit consumers, who will pay more on the front end for the new-generation bulbs but will save money over time because they last longer — up to 23 years for LED bulbs and about nine years for CFLs.
CFL bulbs use about 75 percent less energy, government estimates say, while LEDs use about 85 percent less than incandescent bulbs, but they cost about 10 times more.
“The reason why the federal government legislated the change is because these incandescent bulbs use four times or more energy than other technologies,” Kevin Hallinan, a University of Dayton engineering professor who studies renewable energy,told the Dayton Daily News, noting that incandescent bulbs emit more heat.
“That’s more pollution coming out of the power plants, that’s more carbon emissions, so this is really a good thing for the U.S,” Hallinan said.
Consumers can still purchase the incandescent bulbs as long as supplies last, and they remain in stock at many home-product retailers around the country. Once those are gone, however, the newer bulbs will be the only ones available.
Some Republican members of Congress have sought a repeal of certain elements of the ban, but have had no success despite cries of a “nanny state” imposing its will on consumers.
In 2011, a trio of Republican lawmakers — Reps. Joe Barton and Michael Burgess of Texas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee — offered the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, but the legislation failed to pass the House.
The Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and eight co-sponsors, was also floated in 2011 but died in a House subcommittee.
Current laws under the federal government’s Energy Star program are enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in charge of new guidelines for light fixtures. The guidelines for a fixture to earn Energy Star ratings increased in 2013 as part of the federal law’s broader energy efficiency plan.
The light bulb issue marks a continued pattern of what some say is the federal government’s overextending its power in recent years, including spying on news reporters’ sources, forcing menu labeling laws in an attempt to change what people eat, and intimidating certain groups, including conservatives, through IRS intrusion.
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain said in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition‘s annual conference:
“We’ve got the IRS abuse. FEC intimidation. EPA discrimination. DOJ intimidation. NSA corruption. And it goes on and on and on in terms of the abuse and the corruption in the government that wants to control all of our lives.”
Said Bakst, of the Heritage Foundation:
“We certainly have seen far more government intrusion in the last few years than we have before. It has become the expectation that the government has the proper role in the free choices that we make.”
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