Efficiency is a generally considered a good thing. Good politics. Good business. That’s why efforts from national mileage standards for cars to rules requiring your refrigerator to use less energy have proven popular and effective, quietly spurring the gradual replacement of outdated technology with better-performing alternatives.
And that’s why, back in 2007, barely anyone raised an eyebrow when Congress applied efficiency standards to an energy guzzler that hadn’t changed much in more than a century: the light bulb.
A requirement that would make bulbs at least a third more efficient starting next year passed Congress as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 in a 3-to-1bipartisan vote. Half of House Republicans supported the bill; Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who now chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the legislation a “common sense, bipartisan approach … to save energy as well as help foster the creation of new domestic manufacturing jobs”; and President George W. Bush duly signed it into law.
The lighting industry welcomed the bill, which gave it time to work on meeting the new standards and set out a schedule gradually phasing them in, starting New Year’s Day 2012. First to be replaced will be the bulbs we’ve long know as “100-watt” incandescents. Over the next two years, today’s 75-, 60-, and 40-watt bulbs will have to likewise cut there energy use by about a third.
And guess what? The new rules have worked just as intended, accelerating the development of a variety of new lighting offerings, all of which save consumers money in the long run. In addition to improved CFLs, the new options include low-energy halogens that look like today’s incandescents, as well as LED bulbs that last for years. They’re already on sale at your local hardware store or Home Depot. You’re probably using some of them in your house, perhaps without even realizing there’s a difference.
“Efficiency is a desirable thing, and this type of standard has been a part of our body politic for a long time,” said Randall Moorhead, vice president of government affairs at Philips, as quoted at ThinkProgress.org. “The reality is, consumers will see no difference at all. The only difference they’ll see is lower energy bills because we’re creating more efficient incandescent bulbs.” The National Electrical Manufacturers Association and General Electric have also voiced support for the new rules.
So who’s got a problem with lighting efficiency standards now? Not business, certainly. And not the consumers reaping the benefits (which are estimated to reach $6 billion a year). It’s some of the same House Republicans (including Upton, whose statement crowing about the 2007 law as a “common sense, bipartisan approach” that will create jobs has disappeared from his website) who think they can score cheap political points with fans of Rush Limbaugh — who decries efficiency standards as “nanny state-ism” — and Glenn Beck, who apparently thinks anything that saves consumers money is “all socialist.”
On Tuesday night those House Republicans failed to pass a law known as the “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act,” or BULB Act, that would have repealed state and municipal rights to set efficiency standards for light bulbs. Business and consumers can hope this signals the end of a misguided effort to roll back progress. That’s never been a very bright option.
UPDATE 7/14/2011: Not the end! On Thursday, House Republicans launched yet another misguided attack on light bulb efficiency. Sigh.