Bill to Ban Regular Light Bulbs Introduced in House

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:23pm EDT

( - A Democratic lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban the sale of traditional incandescent light bulbs - which are less energy-efficient, prompting claims that they contribute to "global warming" - one day after a colleague told a press conference that legislating a ban would be a "last choice."

As Cybercast News Service reported last week, Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) held a news conference Wednesday calling for more efficient lighting options, and Manzullo said "the last thing we want to do is force legislation down people's throats."

One day later, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would set target dates for certain types of light bulbs to be prohibited for sale in the United States.

Harman calls the bill "an important first step toward making every household, business and public building in America more energy-efficient."

"This legislation, while a small step, could have an enormous impact," she said in a posting on the liberal Huffington Post blog. "And hopefully, it can help transform America into an energy-efficient and energy-independent nation."

An average traditional incandescent bulb based on a filament emits 12-15 lumens per watt (a measurement of the bulb's lighting output.) Harman's bill would require all bulbs to produce 60 lumens-per-watt by January 2012; 90 lumens-per-watt by January 2016; and 120 lumens-per-watt by January 2020.

Currently available compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) are about halfway to the ultimate goal, offering approximately 60 lumens-per-watt. A 20-watt CFL produces about as much light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb.

Philips Lighting, the world's largest producers of light bulbs, has joined with environmental groups to encourage legislation banning incandescent bulbs. Some skeptics believe the company is in the debate simply for its own profit.

Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service it is "unusual" for a company to ask for federal regulation of their product unless it will benefit them financially.

In this case, a federal standard would ensure that incandescent bulbs would not be available from any manufacturer, so if Philips stopped producing the bulbs, it would not lose business to other companies still producing them.

"This company conceivably could be using environmentalism as a pretext to market their more expensive and more energy efficient bulbs to the detriment of their competition, who produce cheaper bulbs," Darling said.

Steve Goldmacher, a spokesman for Philips Lighting, acknowledged Tuesday that the company supports legislating efficiency standards as a way to prevent competitors from offering the traditional bulbs.

"If we stopped [producing the bulbs] ... somebody else would just jump into the breach and continue to manufacture them and continue to fill that gap," he told Cybercast News Service.

"Given the choice of a 25 cent incandescent [bulb] to a $2 or $3 or $5 product ... consumers have made that choice already over the years - they choose the more inefficient type," Goldmacher said, "so here we need to lead them a little by the hand and take those inefficient types off the market."

Goldmacher dismissed skeptics' claims that the company merely wants to require consumers to purchase more expensive products so it can legislate higher profits for itself.

"That's not the driving force here," he said, adding that the company's goal is "to reduce the footprint of the lighting industry and create a more sustainable product."

While the bulbs cost more up-front, they will last longer, Goldmacher said. "If we make a technology that's going to last 25 years, we're not going to make that much money on that purchase, are we?"

Cuba two years ago began phasing out incandescent light bulbs in a reported bid to ease the strain on the communist-ruled island's overtaxed electricity grid. Following Havana's example, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last November launched a program to distribute millions of energy-saving bulbs, for free, to the country's citizens.

And Australia last month announced a plan that would gradually ban light bulbs that do not comply with energy-efficiency targets.

A spokesman for Harman declined to provide comment for this report.

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