The debate over incandescent light bulbs hasn’t burned out.
On July 12, the U.S. House failed to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to repeal the new federal lighting efficiency standards that will effectively phase out all traditional incandescent bulbs by the end of 2014. The vote was 233-193.
But congressional action didn’t end there.
On a voice vote July 18, the House approved cutting off funds to implement the law in an amendment to the 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Act (H.R. 2354). The Senate ultimately is expected to vote on the act, which last week was referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
And now states are getting into the fray to bypass the federal light bulb efficiency standards.
This month, Texas enacted a law allowing incandescent bulbs to be manufactured and sold within the state. The Los Angeles Times says Pennsylvania and South Carolina may soon follow suit.
Republicans have cast the issue as yet another example of big government reaching ever deeper into the lives of Americans, telling us what kind of light bulbs we can use in our homes.
The Obama administration says using energy efficient light bulbs not only will save consumers money on their utility bills, but will save the nation nearly $6 billion in energy costs in 2015.
Although the new light bulb efficiency standards – approved during the Bush administration in 2007 — don’t specifically ban incandescents, the Associated Press says the law requires new bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more energy efficient. For traditional incandescent bulbs, 100-watt versions will be largely unavailable by Jan. 1, 2012, 75-watt bulbs in 2013, and 40- and 60- watt bulbs in 2014.
The federal light bulb law is not only a political or energy-saving issue, but perhaps even more importantly, a health and safety issue.
Most consumers are switching to compact fluorescent bulbs. Although they contain a small amount of mercury, that amount apparently is not small enough to be safe if the bulbs break.
Because of the health effects of mercury on the kidneys and central nervous system, the EPA has set forth a detailed, eight-point cleanup plan should such a bulb break in your home.
Steps include ventilating and leaving the room, placing fragments and any vacuumed residue in a sealed container, and disposing of the remnants of the bulb at a center that recycles CFLs.
The EPA also has recommended that any bedding or clothing coming in direct contact with a broken CFL be discarded.
Besides the adverse effects of mercury, other health effects from CFLs, including seizures from the flickering light, have been reported.
It’s true that consumers do have alternatives.
Although far more expensive, mercury-free LED lighting is one such option. An LED’s life span is rated at up to 15,000 hours compared to 10,000 to 15,000 hours for CFLs and 750 to 1,000 hours for incandescent bulbs.
But not all LEDs seem to be performing as expected, with users complaining of greenish-colored light, bulbs burning out in just a couple of months, metal bases that overheat and lack of brightness.
Another alternative is the mercury-free halogen bulb, an energy-efficient version of the incandescent bulb. Now being manufactured to look like and use the same socket as a standard incandescent bulb, it has a rated life of 1,000 to 2,500 hours — somewhat more than an incandescent.
A brighter hope for safely replacing incandescents might be an emerging technology called the electron stimulated luminescence (ESL) bulb, said to use a process similar to that of a cathode ray tube (CRT), or old-style TV tube, to generate light.
According to its developers, the light quality of an ESL is similar to that of an incandescent bulb.
The new ESLs, with an estimated life span of 11,000 hours, are expected to arrive on the market in August.
Even though options other than CFLs are available, they typically are more expensive. And because CFLs are less costly and more reliable, they will continue by far to be the most-used bulb in America under the new law.
But how many of us will really take the trouble to recycle CFLs or use the necessary caution to dispose of broken ones safely? I suspect most people will simply toss them in the trash.
I always thought the goal of the new light bulb efficiency standards was to save energy and save the planet, not to create a health care crisis and toxic nightmare for generations to come.