The Light Bulb Revolution Is Here to Stay


Congressional negotiators have agreed on a budget for FY2014, and for the most part it’s anticlimactic: the spending outlines were agreed to last year, so all this does is fill in some of the details. However, there’s always room for a few partisan hobbyhorses to make their way into the fine print. For example:

The agreement is riddled with dozens of controversial policy riders. One would bar funding to enforce a law that requires incandescent light bulbs to meet new efficiency standards.

How much difference would this actually make? Hard to say. On the one hand, the lighting industry has completed the transition to newer, more efficient bulbs and has no interest in going back. What’s more, these newer bulbs provide just about all the options anyone could ask for. Newer CFLs turn on quickly and don’t flicker. LED bulbs last forever. (Supposedly.) And ordinary incandescent bulbs continue to be available in more efficient halogen formulations for those who just don’t want to make the switch. Yes, you read that right: despite all the screaming about the heavy jackboot of the government, incandescent bulbs are still available right alongside the newer bulbs. All told, the transition is pretty much complete, so at this point there isn’t much to enforce anyway.

On the other hand, it’s also true that old-style incandescents provide a yellower light and are cheaper to buy than the newer halogens.1 So if the new standards aren’t enforced, there will certainly be a market for old-school bulbs. I suspect that big outlets like Lowes or Home Depot will stay away from them regardless, but smaller stores and internet suppliers will probably stock them for as long as anyone manufactures them.

Bottom line: At this point, suspending enforcement is mostly a symbolic gesture to please the tea party base of the GOP. It will have a modest effect, but for the most part the market has moved on. The 2007 law that phased out old-style incandescents ushered in a technological race to build a better bulb, and it worked. Those bulbs are here to stay.

1When you factor in the fact that halogens last twice as long and have lower power consumption than old-style incandescents, they’re actually cheaper over the lifespan of the bulb. However, there will always be a market for a product that costs less at the point of sale.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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