Let There Be Light Bulbs? House Vote on Incandescent Ban Fails

Jul 12, 2011 7:11pm

UPDATE: A vote in the House Tuesday failed to repeal part of a 2007 law that would begin gradually phasing out energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs in January.

The final vote was 233-193 with only 10 Republicans breaking ranks to vote against the repeal — but under the rules of suspension, the bill required a 2/3 majority to pass. 

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying Republicans were “taking American families another step backward” by voting for the bill.

The new light bulb standards would save the country $12.5 billion per year when they are fully implemented in 2020, according to a study from the Natural Resources Defense Council that is cited in the Pelosi’s statement.

A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry said his state’s repeal of the incandescent bulb phase-out, which he signed into law in June, was about “protecting jobs” and “pushing back against misguided federal overreach into matters that should be left to states to determine.”

“There is no reason to issue a ban on something that is still in demand,” said Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.


ABC News' Amy Bingham reports:

Is the federal government’s plan to phase out energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs an assault on Americans’ freedom of choice? 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann certainly think so, as does Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex., whose bill to repeal the federally mandated phase-out goes up for a vote in the House this evening.

Perry, who is rumored to be weighing a presidential bid, signed a bill into state law in June that would allow Texans to keep their less-efficient bulbs after the federal ban goes into effect in January. The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. George Lavender, said if the traditional bulbs were made and sold in Texas, the federal government could not use the Interstate Commerce Clause to regulate them. 

But the fight is about far more than light bulbs. 

“It’s a symbol for a lot of things happening right now with the federal government, with them trying to micromanage our lives,” Republican Lavender said. “I don’t think anyone voted for their congressman or their senator to go up there to Washington and vote for what kind of light bulb they could buy.” 

Minnesota Rep. Bachmann seems to agree. 

She introduced a bill in March that would repeal the phase-out unless the new bulbs were proven to save consumers money, did not pose a health risk because of their mercury content and reduced overall carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent in the next 24 years. 

“Frankly, I would be surprised if the [Government Accountability Office] can prove these criteria, but at minimum, my bill will provide the opportunity to examine these important issues,” Bachmann said in a March statement. “The American people want less government intrusion into their lives, not more, and that includes staying out of their personal light bulb choices.” 

The federal law, signed in 2007 by then-president George W. Bush, requires all bulbs to be 25 percent more efficient by 2014. That would mean a traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb must now use only 72 watts. 

But that doesn’t mean consumers have to buy the curly compact florescent bulb, which, as Lavender said, “most people I know don’t like.” An updated version of the revered incandescent bulb uses halogen gas to increase efficiency, but leaves the bulbs otherwise unaltered. These bulbs cost about $1 more than the old ones.

Andrew deLaski, the executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project,  said the light bulb issue has become a “political football”  and “a kind of rallying cry for Tea Party conservatives who use it as a symbol of the federal government, which they like to demonize.” 

DeLaski pointed out that energy-efficiency standards for home appliances were first enacted by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore., who was on ABC’s Top Line today, expressed his frustrations with  the House’s efforts to reinstate the inefficient bulbs. 

"GOP brought back Styrofoam, now trying to bring back inefficient light bulbs…Rotary phones may also make a comeback #GOPBacktotheFuture” he tweeted. 

When Republicans took over the House in 2011 they reinstated Styrofoam packaging in the cafeterias, ending a three-year compost program started by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Democratic leadership had replaced the cheaper, but non-recyclable Styrofoam with slightly more expensive, compostable dishes.

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