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Congress Reaches Deal to
Blunt New Light-Bulb Standards

by Tennille Tracy
Dow Jones News, December 20, 2011

WASHINGTON - A shadow was cast on new light-bulb standards Friday after Congress reached a deal to blunt the effects of a four-year-old law that phases out old forms of incandescent bulbs.

The practical effect of Congress's move is uncertain, however, as light-bulb makers say they will continue to comply with standards that go into effect starting in 2012.

A deal to rein in light-bulb standards was reached late Thursday by congressional negotiators hammering out details of a massive spending bill for 2012. In that bill, lawmakers include a provision that prevents the Energy Department from enforcing light-bulb standards that become effective on Jan. 1.

The move marks a win for Republicans, who have said for months that light-bulb standards epitomize an out-of-control government that tries to control consumers' behavior. Republicans say the standards will force consumers to switch to fluorescent and LED bulbs.

Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas), a vocal critic of the standards, introduced a bill earlier this year to repeal the law. Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, has said government should be "staying out of [consumers'] personal light-bulb choices."

The light-bulb standards, outlined in a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush, are aimed at making bulbs more efficient and reducing pollution from power plants. Specifically, it requires manufacturers to make bulbs that generate the same amount of light with less energy.

Environmental groups accuse the Republicans of spreading misinformation about the choices to be offered to consumers. Light-bulb makers already make incandescent bulbs that meet the new standards, they say, and those bulbs generate light that is similar to traditional bulbs and cost a modest price.

"I went to Home Depot a few months ago and found a 2-pack for $1.50 per bulb and they last about 1,000 hours," said Jim Presswood, federal energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "As far as light quality goes, I really can't tell the difference."

Despite Congress' efforts to blunt the new standards, a trade group that represents 95% of U.S. light bulb makers says its companies will continue to comply with the standards.

"It's still the law and our companies are law-abiding companies," said Joseph Higbee, spokesman for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which represents General Electric Co. (GE) and Philips Electronics Ltd.

If anything, the move to block the DOE from enforcing the standards undermine the investment that light-bulb makers have already made to prepare for new requirements, Higbee said.

"American manufacturers have invested millions of dollars to transition to energy efficiency lighting," Higbee said. "The inability of the Department of Energy to enforce the standard allows bad actors to sell noncompliant products."

A key Senate Democrat also criticized the effort to pull funding for enforcing the standards.

"If America is to have a rational energy policy, we need to make progress in efficiency," Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.), chair of the Senate energy committee, said in a statement. "Blocking funds to enforce minimum standards works against our nation getting the full benefits of energy efficiency."

Tennille Tracy
Congress Reaches Deal to Blunt New Light-Bulb Standards
Dow Jones News, December 20, 2011

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