So, how many members of Congress does it take to screw up a light bulb?
It only sounds like a joke. The fate of the incandescent bulb, the oldest and most common of household electrical devices, has morphed into a political litmus test, one championed by conservative leaders from Rush Limbaugh to Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann.
In a vote along party lines, the House last week blocked a GOP effort to repeal efficiency standards that will begin phasing out the worst watt-wasters next year. But backers like Florida Rep. Bill Posey who sees the notion of regulating bulbs as evidence of a “nanny state’’ run amok, haven’t abandoned the right to light fight.
“This is a sore spot with people,’’ said the Rockledge Republican. “My constituents overwhelmingly don’t want the government to decide what kind of light bulb they want.’’
Whichever way the Washington debate goes, the future is dimming for cheap, old-school filament bulbs, which haven’t changed much since Thomas Edison patented his design more than 130 years ago.
Along with now-common compact florescent bulbs, a new generation of light emitting diode (LED) bulbs claiming up to 23 years of life has begun showing up on store shelves and their eye-popping initial prices of $50-plus have started to drop. Both kinds last years longer and sip roughly a quarter of the juice of their predecessors.
David Schuellerman, a manager for General Electric Lighting, said demand for standard bulbs has dropped by half over the last five years, a trend he expects to continue as homeowners begin following the LED lead of business, which has already put the technology in everything from refrigerator cases to traffic signals.
Maintenance and energy saving easily justify higher initial costs, he said. “It’s compelling when you think that these large companies that have the capacity to crunch the numbers — Starbucks, Walmart, Target — like LED for their stores,’’
At Light Bulbs Unlimited in Fort Lauderdale, purchasing agent Marek Luce has seen increasing interest in LEDs, which are fully dimmable, burn much cooler and are so versatile they come in rope or tape strips now popular under kitchen cabinets. But he’s also noted some runs on incandescents by customers worried about “bulb ban” rumors.
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