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Thursday, July 28, 2011 09:08 am

Don’t turn out lights on bulb innovation

In a close vote, the House recently passed a provision that undercuts one of the most successful environmental programs of the decade – one that requires all light bulbs – including the incandescent – to achieve higher efficiency levels. The amendment, which was tacked on to the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2012, delays a ban on sales of incandescent bulbs for nine months –  from Jan. 1 until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2012 – turning off the lights on this successful program.

The legislation, if passed by the Senate, would repeal one of those “inside the beltway” success stories that seems near impossible these days – legislation that was drafted with the help of light-bulb manufacturing giants, Philips, General Electric and Sylvania, and with the support of a coalition of efficiency and environmental organizations, including my own, passed by a bipartisan majority of the House and Senate and signed into law in 2007 by Republican President George W. Bush. More unusual was the fact that California and Nevada, then under leadership of Republican governors, swallowed hard and gave up their own state lighting-efficiency legislation, which had faster timetables. They did so because they were persuaded by all of us that creating a single regulatory light-bulb standard for the whole country would support innovation, would help the United States maintain its market share of production, save American households money, create new jobs and would give industry what it craves much more than the anti-regulatory crowd would have you believe. It seems fair to use the term “dim bulb” to describe those members of Congress who voted to turn back the clock.

It’s up to the Senate to rectify this wrong.

Thomas Edison created the light bulb in 1879, one of the great U.S. inventions that helped solidify America’s reputation as a global innovator and a place where innovation would be rewarded. His incandescent bulb, though it revolutionized the world, spends most of its life making heat, not light, and it’s remarkable for its inefficiency by today’s standards. After a slow start, and in the face of a global phase-out, manufacturers began the arduous, expensive and sometimes exciting process of reinventing lighting. Now, despite their detractors, the new generations of light bulbs, including the new highly efficient incandescent, is revolutionizing indoor, outdoor and street lighting. And these new or improved bulbs will save American families $100 to $200 every year, for a total savings of $12 billion for American households every year. It also will save more than 2,000 American jobs.

The survival of the legislation also means we won’t be putting 1 million tons of climate pollution in our atmosphere, which is the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road, saving our country money, energy and lives. Certainly, Thomas Edison would have embraced this technology for its energy and cost savings, as he often said, “Waste is worse than loss.”  

This legislation is one of many dozens of efforts that Congress is seriously entertaining that would roll back progress and stifle innovation. From dissolution of EPA to stalling air-quality rules that would reduce mercury in the air, to blocking EPA from regulating climate pollutants, to even more subtle and damaging efforts – congressional leadership is capitulating to Tea Partiers and others who myopically and tragically see regulation as an impediment to their version of a happy and prosperous life, a life that seems to include wastefulness. Then to get us there, they have filtered out the long history of bipartisanship on energy solutions and environmental protection. Have they forgotten that Republican President Ronald Reagan pushed and pushed hard for energy efficiency standards and energy innovations?

There is one piece of ancient technology that American voters should insist on keeping – a good old-fashioned broom. We should use it to sweep out those members of Congress whose dedication against all regulations and support for unfettered individual freedom is undermining America’s global leadership in technology and innovation, maybe permanently. 

Kathleen Rogers is president of Earth Day Network.


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