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Tea Partiers win light bulb concession; but energy experts say prospects for better bulbs are still bright

December 16th, 2011

Green Right Now Reports

Far right GOPers who oppose federal standards for energy efficient light bulbs have successfully attached a rider to the big spending bill moving through Congress.

The rider withholds funding for federal enforcement of new efficiency standards going into effect in 2012, though it leaves in place the 2007 law raising the efficiency standards for light bulbs.

While this could lead to some cheap, inefficient bulbs slipping into the market — potentially slowing of the adoption of energy efficient light bulbs — it is unlikely to stop the wave of innovation and lighting advancements already under way by manufacturers who’ve retooled to meet the 2007 requirements, according to lighting and energy experts who spoke at a news conference on Friday.

Manufacturers will continue to make bulbs, both CFLs and incandescent, that meet or exceed the standards passed under the Bush Administration, because an increasingly enlightened consumer market demands it and it’s also “the law of the land,” said Kyle Pitsor, vice president of government affairs, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

The 2007 law, signed by President George Bush, provides for staged-in light bulb efficiencies, first targeting the 100-watt bulb by requiring it to be at least 30 percent more efficient than old-style incandescents by 2012.

Manufacturers have already met this requirement with both CFLs and more efficient halogen-incandescents that are already on the market, said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy.

The light bulb standard “represents the most important of the appliance standards,” Callahan said. As all types of bulbs are gradually included, it’s anticipated to save the average family about $100 annually on their electricity bill, or about $12 billion in consumer savings across the nation. It will offset the power generated by 30 power plants, she said.

The rider, pushed by light bulb opponents like Reps. Michelle Bachman (R-Minn), Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), strips the Department of Energy from being able to enforce the new standards. States attorney generals, however, will still be able to police the light bulb market. The opposition to energy efficient light bulbs arose in recent years as Tea Party Republicans argued that it represented overreach by the government. Defenders of the legislation, however, say it’s no different than the efficiency standards applied to refrigerators, washers and dryers and other appliances in an effort to reduce energy consumption.

The reduced enforcement of the new light bulb standards could allow “bad actors to sell” inefficient bulbs on the US market, creating unfair competition from illegitimate importers, he said.

Light bulb manufacturers based in the US, which have factories both here and abroad, would be expected to comply with the standards, he noted.

If tying the hands of federal regulators opens the market to less efficient bulbs, it would slow progress toward energy efficiency, said David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“The market is gradually moving in this (more efficient) direction, and the top manufacturers in the US are moving in this direction, but the transition will be slower and less complete without standards (enforcement),” he said.

The big picture, however, still looks bright for energy efficient bulbs, Callahan said.

“The question really is who’s in favor of wasting energy?” she said.

Polls show consumers support and are buying more energy efficient bulbs; retailers are eager to carry them, and manufacturers have moved well beyond even the standards set in 2007, pushing for even more efficiencies with new LED technology, she said.

Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for the Consumers Union agreed.

Because the efficiency standards have been on the books for four years, consumer awareness has grown and people understand that even though the new efficient CFLs and incandescent cost more upfront, they save energy and dollars, through their more efficient operation and by lasting years longer than old-style incandescents.

“Seventy-seven percent of consumers said they picked efficient bulbs last time they bought bulbs,” she said, citing a Consumer Reports survey. “Our advice to consumers is to be sure they look at the label, to make sure they’re getting an efficient product.”


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