Lawmakers Don't Rule Out Legislation in Bid to Promote Efficient Light Bulbs

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - A Republican congressman on Wednesday wouldn't rule out legislation as a way to prod American consumers to switch from traditional incandescent light bulbs to more efficient modern bulbs.

Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) called legislation a "last choice" but did not rule it out as an option in the long term. Manzullo spoke at a news conference in Washington, D.C., with representatives from the energy industry and environmental interest groups promoting the modern bulbs.

The groups hope to encourage manufacturers and consumers to switch to new bulbs that cost more upfront but can save money on electricity bills, due to their increased efficiency. One bulb manufactured by Philips is guaranteed to last six years (8,000 operation hours) and purports to save $22 in energy costs over its lifetime.

"The last thing we want to do is force legislation down people's throats," Manzullo said. But he said the goal to "greatly reduce the amount of electricity that lighting consumes" may require legislation to serve as a "focal point that you look at to try to move the country forward."

"There may be legislation that would pass under unanimous consent of both houses if it's done right," he said. "That's what I would like to see done."

But other members of what Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) called the "Lighting Efficiency Coalition" were more straightforward with their support for legislation that would mandate efficiency standards for light bulbs, effectively banning the production of traditional incandescent bulbs.

Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, said it would take consumer education on the benefits of modern bulbs and congressional action to begin the change.

"It takes a combination of courage and leadership from the state and federal government to make things happen," she said.

"The American economy is replete with stories about industry moving ahead and deciding among themselves with the consent and help of the U.S. Congress and the states to replace products, so I believe that Congress and the states do need to act," Rogers added.

Even a major player in the lighting industry is supporting the push for legislative action on light bulb efficiency. Philips Electronics, which calls itself a pioneer of compact fluorescent technology, is "advocating an industry-wide initiative" that would phase out the inefficient bulbs.

Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it is "unfortunate that a company would ever be asking the federal government to mandate the use of a certain technology."

"If they really believe in what they're advocating, they should cease to produce these so-called inefficient light bulbs," Darling said, adding he is skeptical that the new bulbs would save as much money as manufacturers suggest.

Darling said 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.

"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," he said.

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