WASHINGTON — The Department of Energy won't be able to enforce rules that ban energy-wasting light bulbs when new standards take effect in January, thanks to a requirement slipped into the federal spending bill.
House Republicans added the provision in response to the concerns of people who mistakenly thought that the 100-watt incandescent light bulb would be banned when new standards go into effect on Jan. 1.
"We heard the message loud and clear from Americans who don't want government standards determining how they light their homes," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners this month that the days of the 100-watt bulb were numbered. It soon will be "illegal to buy an incandescent light bulb. ... Well, you can have them but you can't sell them but they're still gonna be gunning for you," he said, according to a transcript of a Dec. 9 program.
In fact, the new standards don't ban incandescent bulbs, but rather require that new ones use about 25 percent less electricity. The extra efficiency is provided by the use of halogen gas.
"Same light, lower energy bills. What's not to like?" Jim DiPeso, the policy director for Republicans for Environmental Responsibility, said in a statement Thursday. "Americans have more choices in lighting than they have ever had."
The light bulb standards were approved with bipartisan support in 2007 and included in an energy bill that was signed by President George W. Bush.
The provision that Upton got placed into the spending bill will cut off money the Department of Energy would have used to make sure that the regulations are followed. The lighting standards themselves remain. They start with more efficient equivalents of the 100-watt bulb in 2012 and include other bulbs through 2014.
The House passed the spending bill on Friday, and final action on it in the Senate was expected on Saturday.
The U.S. has had many other energy efficiency standards over the past few decades. Refrigerators, washing machines and many other appliances use less electricity than older versions did.
Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit organization that promotes energy efficiency worldwide, said the light bulb standards were the most important of these energy-saving standards. When they're fully in effect, they'll save the equivalent energy of 30 power plants; families will save about $100 a year in energy costs; and air pollution will be reduced by the equivalent of taking 14 million cars off the road.
Polls show that two-thirds or more of Americans already have started to transition to more efficient lighting, Callahan said.
Kim Freeman, a spokeswoman for General Electric Co., said that over the last five years consumer demand for incandescent bulbs has decreased by about 50 percent.
Better light bulbs are the most affordable efficiency upgrade for a home, said Shannon Baker-Branstetter of Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.
Kyle Pitsor, vice president for government affairs with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, said that U.S. lighting companies, which are following the law, are concerned that they'll face unfair competition from companies that make inefficient bulbs, once the Department of Energy isn't checking.
If inefficient bulbs are still for sale, the transition to energy-saving ones will slow down, said David Goldston, the director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. More efficient bulbs will save people money, but it's not a big enough part of their budget that they'll do it automatically, he said.
Pitsor said the industry in the U.S. and globally would continue to invest in lighting efficiency innovations.
The industry has been improving the light color and quality of compact fluorescents. In addition, LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs for residential use will be on the market in 2012. CFLs and LEDs save more energy than new halogen incandescent bulbs.
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