A triumph for the “light bulb freedom” movement, which opposed the phaseout of traditional incandescent bulbs starting Jan. 1, 2012, may turn out to be a hollow victory. Supporters had hoped to delay the implementation of the new energy-efficient light bulb standards with a rider on the 2012 Omnibus funding bill. Congress passed the bill right before Christmas, along with the light bulb rider, which bars the Department of Energy (DOE) from enforcing the planned phaseout of 100-watt energy-inefficient incandescent bulbs. So no citations, no fines, no government agents swooping into hardware stores in search of illegal light bulbs.
Good thing, too. They might have trouble finding any. Most lighting manufacturers retooled their factories long ago to produce energy-efficient halogens, LEDs and incandescent bulbs. Retailers big and small have been selling these products for at least two years. Few were waiting for the last week in December to put their old 100-watt bulbs on clearance.
Depending on how you look at it, the light bulb rider is either a well-deserved slap back at the federal government’s overreach or an ill-conceived and illogical fight against energy conservation. Either way, the measure is temporary. The funding bill expires on Sept. 30, and so does the provision that forbids the DOE from spending any funds on enforcement.
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), which represents more than 95% of the U.S. lighting manufacturing industry, was not happy about the reprieve. Its members — companies like Osram Sylvania, GE Lighting and Philips Lighting — have poured millions into research, development and promotion of new lighting options to replace the energy-inefficient pear-shaped bulb. In fact, many of them are producing incandescent bulbs that meet the new federal standards and look exactly like the old bulbs.
Joseph Higbee, director of communication and marketing for NEMA, points out that the rider on the Omnibus bill did nothing to change the standards or the timetable outlined in the Energy Independence and Security Act, signed into law by President George Bush in 2007. It was a bipartisan bill, and the mandates were clear: Manufacturers had until January 2012 to make 100-watt light bulbs that used 30% less energy. For 75-watt, the deadline was January 2013. The 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs had until J