US House votes down incandescent bulb-ban bill

July 14, 2011
The US House of Representatives failed to pass the “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act,” which aimed to repeal the 2007 legislation that will mandate more-efficient replacements for 100W lamps, such as LED-based lamps, beginning next year.

On Tuesday (July 12), the US House of Representatives voted on the H.R. 2417 “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act” that was proffered by the Republican party, members of which believe the government has no place legislating what type of light bulbs citizens buy. The bill failed to achieve the two thirds vote required to repeal the 2007 legislation that mandates more-efficient light bulbs starting next year, and the failure is generally good news for proponents of LED-based solid-state lighting (SSL).

The House voted 233 to 193 in favor of the act. The vote was largely along party lines, although 10 Republicans voted against the legislation while 5 Democrats voted for the repeal.

The new bill ran contrary to the escalating green movement. Lighting is responsible for more than 20% of the energy used in the US. And most see lighting as one of the easiest places to save energy. But the savings come with higher upfront cost of SSL products that must be recovered through savings over long lifetimes.

Republicans created the EISA

Ironically, it was Republican President George W. Bush who signed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) requiring more-efficient light bulbs into law back in 2007. The legislation requires that 100W lamps, or more specifically lamps with a light output of around 1700 lm, operate 30% more efficiently.

In successive years the efficiency requirements will be applied sequentially to 75W, 60W, and 40W lamps. And an even more stringent set of efficiency requirements will kick in later in the decade. The EISA doesn’t ban incandescent lamps but realistically only technologies such as SSL and compact -fluorescent lamps (CFLs) will meet the requirements.

Despite the fact that more-efficient lighting will save significant energy, Republicans, urged on by conservative celebrities including Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, sought to allow citizens to make their own lighting choices. An editorial in the joined the protest and called for passage of the new incandescent bulb bill.

In actuality many people who oppose the lighting aspects of the EISA don’t fully understand the details of the legislation. A recent New York Times article described how people are stocking up on incandescent lamps, although in many cases the new bill would not even impact the type of lamps discussed. Indeed the EISA accepts many lamp types including 3-way bulbs, and many decorative-lamp styles.

EISA supporters

The EISA also has strong supporters and there was intense lobbying leading up to Tuesday’s vote that may have been responsible for the defeat. Lighting Science Group CEO Jim Haworth said, “Lighting is the low-hanging fruit in reducing energy consumption: it accounts for 19% of the world’s energy use – and in the United States, 22%; public and commercial buildings represent 60% of the power used for lighting; up to 80% of offices are lit by outdated and inefficient systems; and lighting accounts for 15% of household electricity use. There are 4.4 billion traditional light sockets in the United States alone offering a rapid and practical path for billions of dollars in energy savings through the installation of more efficient lighting.”

Of course many proponents have a vested interest. Lighting Science Group hopes to be a major player the LED-based replacement lamp market. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, among others, also lobbied to leave the EISA standing.

If you would like more details on the reaction from House members and other interested parties after the vote, the New York Times ran an excellent article with reaction from Texas Republican Joe Barton who proposed the repeal. Many others are quoted in the article.

California and Texas

It’s unclear whether this is the end of the story with the EISA federally, but states within the union are also active in legislation – and headed in vastly different directions. California had passed legislation that accelerated the EISA guidelines starting the transition this year.

Texas, conversely, has acted explicitly to allow manufacture and sale of incandescent lamps in the state going forward. In July, the state passed a measure that essentially makes lamps stamped with “Made in Texas” exempt from the EISA.