Right Wing Yawns As New Light Bulb Deadline Nears

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The federally mandated phaseout of inefficient light bulbs will enter its final stage on January 1, and so far all is eerily quiet on the light bulb battlefield. You might recall that the initial stage of the phaseout began in 2012, accompanied by a thunderous volley of complaints by conservative luminaries including Texas Governor Rick Perry, pundits Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, former Congressman Newt Gingrich, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, along with the somewhat lesser known Congressman Michael Burgess of Texas, who is perhaps more familiar for his rather unique views on how fetuses while away the hours before birth.

What Light Bulb Ban?

To recap briefly for those of you unfamiliar with the light bulb issue, the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act set a blueprint for reducing petroleum dependency by focusing on lighting efficiency in buildings, among other targets.

Lighting is a juicy, low-hanging fruit for efficiency gains. Lighting accounts for about 10 percent of energy use in a typical home, and conventional incandescent technology wastes 90 percent of its energy in the form of heat. Since the basic technology hasn’t changed in a good century or so, the field was ripe for improvement.

light bulb ban
Light bulb (cropped) by Derek Key.

The “ban” does effectively prohibit manufacturers and importers from bringing old-school incandescent bulbs to market, but it doesn’t dictate what consumers can choose to put in their homes. That leaves open plenty of other options including enhanced incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs, and light emitting diodes.

From early on, consumer surveys indicated a willingness to try new lighting, and after some initial fits and starts the lighting industry has come up with solutions that address aesthetic concerns. Costs are also falling rapidly (see here and here for some of our updates).

So, what ban?

That Ban!

Let’s take a look at what conservative groups were saying about the new efficiency standards in advance of the 2012 deadline, with this tidbit from Freedom Action, a spinoff from the Center for Competitive Enterprise:

The light bulb ban is an outrageous government limitation on consumer choice and intrusion into the home of every American. There is overwhelming public support that spans the political spectrum for repealing the ban on incandescent light bulbs.

Yeah, that ban.

The New Light Bulb Ban Cone Of Silence

That was typical of the rhetoric back when the new efficiency standards only affected 100-watt bulbs. As of January 1 2013 the standards effectively phased out traditional 75-watt incandescent bulbs. The third and final phase affects 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs, which are bought in greater quantities, so you would expect much more ranting and railing as the January 1 2014 deadline approaches, amplified as usual by our friends over at Fox News, Free Republic, and other high profile conservative media.

Instead, oddly enough, a quick survey of material circulating around the Tubes provided us with nothing but facts.

Take Fox News, for example. In a December 13 article on the phaseout, reporter Jeremy R. Kaplan starts off thusly:

It’s lights out for the light bulb.

On Jan. 1 it will become illegal to manufacture or import traditional 60-watt and 40-watt incandescent bulbs, thanks to a 2007 bill that set strict minimum efficiency standards – and effectively outlawed the ordinary bulb.

See what he just did there? In one economically worded sentence, Mr. Kaplan provided two important facts about the phaseout that until lately had been buried under an avalanche of alarmist rhetoric: The phaseout was signed into law by President Bush, not President Obama, and it doesn’t dictate what consumers can put in their homes, it only sets efficiency standards for manufacturers and importers.

While paying a generous nod to individual consumers who don’t cotton to new technology that meets the standards, Kaplan finishes up with a pitch from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, quoting spokesperson Phallan Davis at length and adding his own coda for good measure:

‘NEMA’s members are in the energy efficiency business. Electroindustry products are becoming more and more energy efficient and the systems that often manage their use add to energy and cost savings. NEMA believes that energy efficiency policies, for the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, should be a central component to any national energy policy.’

Now that’s a bright idea.

We took a peek over at Free Republic to see what they had to say, and all we found was a link to WKRG, which reposted a December 13 article from CNN that took a similar fact-based approach.

Even the notorious breitbart.com (sorry, no link – look it up yourself) launched into the topic with this innocuous lede, followed up with some meaty facts about the efficiency benefits of new lighting technology:

If you want a 40 or 60-watt incandescent light bulb, you’d better get one by Christmas, because they will not be manufactured after January 1, 2014 and will be increasingly scarce. The 40 and 60-watt light bulbs sell more than any other light bulbs, but they are being phased out as their incandescent 75 and 100-watt brethren were phased out at the beginning of 2013.

Okay, so what’s the deal? If our favorite anti-efficiency conservatives are not just laying low in advance of a coordinated sneak attack on the new efficiency standards, perhaps this is just another Affordable Care Act thing where they kick up a huge storm only to discover that, after the dust settles, most folks are supportive of a change for the better.

Stay tuned.

Image (cropped): Light bulb by Derek Key.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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