Why have light bulbs become such a wedge issue in our country?


We are really a country that’s been rubbed raw politically by the wedge issue of what kind of lightbulb you can buy.

About 4 years ago, there was bipartisan support when Congress originally mandated energy efficiency in our lighting. So I’m amazed how many people look askew at the new rules being phased in over a multiyear period that force manufacturers to make better bulbs.

It’s odd to me because Americans in polling have been overwhelmingly in favor of the government standards that force auto manufacturers to create more efficient vehicles over the next many years. So why do we love the car thing — which I’ve controversially said for years should be accomplished through a gas tax, not a government mandate — but then have this wedge over the bulbs?

OK, let’s get some facts straight. There’s no requirement that the traditional bulb has to disappear; the requirement simply means that traditional bulbs have to become more efficient.

I was at a warehouse club and already saw the new energy-efficient traditional bulbs on the shelves — I’m not talking about CFLs either. But speaking of CFLs, if you’re like some Americans who despise them, there are also halogens that are a lot cheaper than traditional bulbs to operate (though not as cheap as CFLs) and they give great light. So that’s kind of a compromise. Another compromise will come from businesses that are pioneering the use of LEDs, which will one day make them cheaper for the average consumer.

I can’t emphasize enough that the true cost of a bulb is not the purchase price, but the cost of the energy it burns over time.

The new mandates mean that bulbs only have to be 25% more efficient. That can be done with modifications to the traditional bulb. So the idea that you have to go hoard every inefficient bulb you can find…well, if that makes you happy, go do it! But of the things we have to deal with in America, I think we have much bigger fish to fry in our political disagreements than to worry about the bulbs we’re using being an infringement on our freedom.

In recent USA Today polling, people said they were either overwhelmingly satisfied or satisfied with the alternative choices they have for bulbs. But the real satisfaction will be the much lower energy bulbs you have when you convert your whole house to more efficient bulbs.

As for my family, my wife and I have a compromise. I get the overhead lights for CFLs and my wife gets to put the very expensive-to-operate traditional bulbs in all the lamps. Then we race around the house and whoever gets to a room first gets to turn on their light of choice. (Just kidding about that last part!)

  • Show Comments Hide Comments