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Light Bulb Industry Angered by GOP Delay of Tougher Light Bulb Efficiency Standards (?)

a dim light bulb

The light bulb standard requires lights be about 30% more efficient (Photo: wheany/flickr

As part of the omnibus spending bill, which has not quite yet been made law due to the blowup of the payroll tax deal, the federal government will delay enforcement of new regulations for increased energy efficiency in light bulbs. Republicans claim that this delay, achieved through blocking Energy Department funding for enforcement through Fiscal Year 2012, will “save” the incandescent light bulb, but in reality incandescent bulbs were never banned. The rules just stated that they had to increase their efficiency. And light bulb manufacturers put a lot of money and effort into meeting that standard. Now, with this delay, they don’t have to abide by the new standards yet. But they’ve already sunk so much money into meeting the new regulations, that they oppose the delay altogether:

Big companies like General Electric, Philips and Osram Sylvania spent big bucks preparing for the standards, and the industry is fuming over the GOP bid to undercut them.

After spending four years and millions of dollars prepping for the new rules, businesses say pulling the plug now could cost them. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has waged a lobbying campaign for more than a year to persuade the GOP to abandon the effort.

Manufacturers are worried that the rider will undermine companies’ investments and “allow potential bad actors to sell inefficient light bulbs in the United States without any fear of federal enforcement,” said Kyle Pitsor, the trade group’s vice president of government relations.

And those potential “bad actors” could come from abroad, dumping inefficient light bulbs on the public, meaning that this regulation could have the effect of costing American jobs as well.

The other possibility for impact of this delay is actually no impact at all. The main players in the industry made their investments to upgrade efficiency, and plan to market to consumers along those lines (more efficient light bulbs mean lower energy costs, so this is likely to work). And if the established players all push in that direction, it would be harder for more renegade, low-efficient manufacturers to gain a market share. In addition, Europe, Brazil, Australia and China already adopted stronger efficiency measures, and manufacturers will find it easier just to tailor to that standard rather than rolling out a different one for the US.

“Bottom line, the standards are moving forward unabated,” said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has promoted the standards. Calling the delay in enforcement a “speed bump,” he added, “Incandescent light bulbs are not going away due to the standard, they are just getting better. The new ones that meet the standard will use 28 percent less power and look and perform exactly like the old one.”

The similarity in the looks of the new bulbs is crucial, because it will become harder to separate the “new” bulbs from the old ones.

The efficiency standards happen to already be in place here in California, and people buy their light bulbs as needed without taking much notice. Tea Party Republicans want to pull the country back to the 19th century, but many have moved on.

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David Dayen

David Dayen