Last year, House Republicans waged a Star Wars-worthy battle to stop a federal law that sets new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, but it seems they have little to show for all that Sturm und Drang. Lighting manufacturers have stated that they intend to abide by the law and adhere to the new standard required as of January 1, even though the House pushed through legislation that delays funding for enforcement. However, given that several Republican candidates for the presidential nomination have made a signature issue out of light bulb efficiency, it’s possible that the whole matter could be revived later this year, just in time to become a hot issue in the 2012 elections.
Lighting Industry Innovates to Meet New Standards
The new energy efficiency standards are being phased in under the terms of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Conventional incandescent light bulb technology is about 130 years old and cannot meet the new efficiency standards, so for the past several years lighting manufacturers have pumped millions into developing new high-efficiency fluorescent and LED (light emitting diode) technology for household use. They have also introduced some new gimmicks to bump up the efficiency of incandescent bulbs. Either way, the new bulbs cost more up front than conventional ones but they last far longer and they save money on electricity bills, and major retailers have been quick to stock the more efficient light bulbs.
Damn the Legislative Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!
In response to the delaying legislation, the Association of Electrical and Medical Equipment Manufacturers, which claims to represent more than 95 percent of the U.S. lighting industry, asserted that its members are “committed to and supportive of the lighting standards established in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.” The American Lighting Association has also stated its support for the 2007 law, along with a message of broader support for climate change action and energy security, noting that “the provisions in this law are intended to reduce energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions and enable the United States to be less dependent on foreign sources of energy.”
Stakeholders Align with Energy Efficient Light Bulbs
Both of the above organizations are members of The LUMEN Coalition, which along with lighting manufacturers includes consumer groups and other stakeholders that assembled in support of the 2007 law. Another LUMEN member, the Alliance to Save Energy, issued a statement through its president Kateri Callahan, who said:
“Congress is voting to prohibit the Department of Energy from spending money to enforce a law that it ‘put on the books’ in 2007, namely technology-neutral, light bulb efficiency standards that can save Americans money and energy.”
The government/industry stakeholder organization the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy also weighed in with a comment from executive director Steven Nadel, who wrote that “fortunately, the law is still in effect and U.S. manufacturers have indicated they will follow the law, even if it is not enforced.”
Light Bulbs as a Campaign Issue
The delaying legislation runs out on September 30, which means that the debate over light bulbs could recharge just ahead of the November elections. However, so far its impact on individual candidates for the Republican nomination has been a mixed bag.
Championing the cause of 19th century lighting technology did nothing for Michele Bachmann, who dropped out of the race after faring poorly in the Iowa caucuses. Another vociferous old-tech supporter, Texas Governor Rick Perry, failed to attract Iowa voters, and support for old bulbs did not shield Newt Gingrich against the avalanche of negative advertising he faced in that contest.
Only Ron Paul has been holding his own, though he did not attract as many votes in Iowa as Rick Santorum, who has been experiencing something of a surge in advance of the New Hampshire primary. However, Santorum is best known for his non-embrace of contraceptive technology, not any failure to embrace new lighting technology, so it is unlikely that the light bulb issue has been a factor in his polling numbers.
As for apparent front-runner Mitt Romney, he has kept his distance from the whole thing, though his official position on energy policy indicates support for a strong government role in developing new technologies – for now, that is.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.