The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to keep energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, which passed in 2007 and are set to phase in beginning next year.
So, do you have to stockpile those old-school, soft white incandescent bulbs now?
No. Congress hasn't banned them. All it has said is that, starting in 2012, light bulbs must use less power to create the same amount of light, saving the country electricity and Americans cash. Light bulb makers already have familiar-looking soft white incandescent bulbs for sale that meet the federal regulations, so you don't have to use extremely efficient compact fluorescent or LED bulbs if you don't want to. Continuing innovation, meanwhile, promises to make tougher rules easier to meet in later years.
The Natural Resources Defense Council calculates that these light bulb efficiency standards will eventually save Americans $12.5 billion a year in lower energy bills, reducing consumption by the equivalent of the output of 33 large power plants and slashing greenhouse and other pollution along the way. Newer bulbs are more expensive than the old clunkers, but often not by much, and they more than pay for themselves in decreased energy use.
Not that you'd know it from the hysterics of some Republicans leading up to the vote. Congress, they insisted, is banning the incandescent light bulb . It wants to force you to buy unattractive and maybe even dangerous compact fluorescent bulbs instead. And, perhaps the most amazing claim of all: Buying new bulbs won't save any energy .
Expect to hear more of this. It's an issue that works for the right. All Americans need light bulbs in their homes, and lots of them. And the incandescent bulb seems like a technology that ain't broke. It is small, reliable and costs 30 cents at the supermarket.
And, yet, precisely because there are so many light bulbs out there that are so wasteful — the old incandescents convert about 90 percent of the energy they use into heat, not light — a little government nudge can make a big difference without big costs.
Sure, government mandates aren't always the best ways to accomplish policy goals; the collective wisdom of consumers facing the right incentives can drive technological change in the most efficient direction. But Republicans are against that policy, too, ruling out the carbon taxes or cap-and-trade programs that would build some of the social costs of pollution into electricity prices. And Congress's light bulb efficiency standards just aren't outrageous, anyway.