When then-President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, he noted that, “New technologies will help usher in a better quality of life for our citizens.” One provision of the act required an increase in the efficiency of newly manufactured lightbulbs, starting with 100-watt incandescent bulbs in 2012. Additional requirements affect 75-watt incandescent bulbs in 2013 and 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs in 2014. The law did not ban the use of incandescent lights, as commonly believed, but it does prohibit the production or importation of bulbs that fail to meet the new efficiency standards after the cut-off date.
That law became effective January 1; however, the budget bill passed by Congress late last year does not allow the Department of Energy to enforce the lightbulb provision until September 30. The legislation that won overwhelming approval in 2007 has evolved into a cause célèbre this election year. The focus of our ire should be directed at the future cost of disposal of these new bulbs, not the efficiency standard.
The electioneering on lightbulbs has become intense. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) is the most vocal opponent of the bulb provision of the law, believing it is just another example of a government that is overstepping its authority by regulating citizens’ freedom of choice. However, there was no such controversy when the original language for the rule was drafted. In fact, the language was cosponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. and Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. The amendment to the act passed easily through the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Upton; was passed by the Senate in a vote of 86-8; passed by the House by a vote of 314-100; and was signed into law by President Bush.
You may recall that after Republicans won the House in the 2010 election cycle, Barton decided to take on Upton for chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. When Barton researched Upton’s past for evidence of a too-moderate voting record to justify leaving him in leadership, Upton’s support of the lightbulb efficiency standard was singled out. Barton thereafter launched the “Save the Light Bulb” campaign, which went viral among conservatives hungry for a wedge issue. Barton’s chairmanship bid soon died, but the lightbulb non-issue continued to prosper.