(USA TODAY) - Congress' move this month to save Thomas Edison's 131-year-old incandescent light bulb from a federally-required phaseout, slated to begin Jan. 1, may slow the nation's switch to more efficient lighting. But it won't halt it.
The Senate and House passed a massive spending bill that included a measure barring the Department of Energy from enforcing more efficient light bulb rules. Those rules, requiring bulbs use at least 25% less energy, do not ban all incandescents, but phase out Edison's bulbs in favor of the more efficient halogen incandescent, the CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) or LED (light emitting diode.)
The light bulb rules were approved with bipartisan support and signed by President George Bush in 2007. Yet this year, House Republicans and conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh have attacked them as a ban on all incandescents as an infringement on individual rights.
"This is an early Christmas present for all Americans. It restores the freedom, at least temporarily, for you to choose the light bulbs you want to illuminate your home," Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said in a statement after the House vote on Dec. 16. (The Senate followed on Dec. 17) Barton said the spending bill delays enforcement less than a year, but he would seek a permanent ban on the lighting rules.
In recent years, U.S. lighting manufacturers have rolled out an increasing array of more efficient light bulbs that are gaining market share. While these bulbs have higher upfront costs, they save consumers money in the long run by using less energy.
The lighting industry has opposed GOP attacks on the lighting standards, which begin phasing out Edison's 100-watt incandescent Jan. 1 nationwide. The 75-watt version follows January 2013 and the 60-watt and 40-watt ones, January 2014. California began the phaseout a year early, in Jan. 2011.
"American manufacturers have invested millions of dollars in transitioning to energy efficient lighting," says Joseph Higbee, spokesman of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, an industry group. "Delay in enforcement undermines those investments and creates regulatory uncertainty."
Higbee says the U.S. inability to enforce the standards could allow some companies to sell inefficient light bulbs without fear of penalty, "creating a competitive disadvantage for compliant manufacturers." His group says lighting accounts for about 12% of a home's energy use and the standards would save the average home more than $100 per year.
The transition to more efficient lighting may be slower without enforcement, but "the market is gradually moving in this direction," says David Goldston of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. He says the lighting rules are hardly unusual, citing the U.S. government's widely accepted efficiency standards for appliances and many other products via its Energy Star program.
Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says most Americans favor thelight bulb standards. He cites a USA TODAY/Gallup poll, taken in February, that found 61% regarded them favorably. Of those surveyed, 71%, said they have replaced standard light bulbs in their home with more efficient options, and 84% said they are "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with the alternatives.
In a more recent survey, taken in October by lighting manufacturer Osram Sylvania, 56% of Americans said they're eager to use more efficient light bulbs. Still, one-third said they're worried about the phaseout of Edison's incandescents and 13% said that they plan to stockpile his 100-watt bulbs.