Spending bill spares incandescent light bulb (sort of)

A rider attached to a spending bill rolls back lighting efficiency rules established by President Bush. That doesn't mean the old school incandescent light bulbs will hang around much longer.

The traditional 100-watt incandescent light bulb, slated to be phased out as new energy efficiency standards kick in Jan. 1, has been spared thanks to a rider added to the government shutdown-averting budget bill approved last night by House and Senate leaders. But that doesn't mean the old school inefficient incandescent light bulbs won't die off anyway.

The $1 trillion omnibus spending bill, which funds most of the federal government for the remainder of fiscal 2012, is expected to reach both chambers today for a vote. House Republicans added a rider to the bill yesterday that blocks the Energy Department from funding the implementation of lighting efficiency standards. The rider remained in the final bill, The Hill reported.

UPDATE: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman says the light bulb rider won't stop the lighting efficiency law from going into effect, according to a statement reported by the Hill. The rider only blocks funding for enforcing the efficiency rules, but starting Jan. 1 it will be "illegal to produce or import the inefficient, wasteful bulbs in the United States," Bingaman said in a statement.

History lesson: GOP created lighting laws

A 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush included a lighting efficiency measure authored by GOP lawmaker Fred Upton that requires traditional incandescent light bulbs to be 30 percent more energy efficient. At the time, Upton believed that lighting efficiency standards that preserved consumer choice while helping save money and energy were the kind of "common sense" regulations he could support. A press release touting the benefits of the energy efficiency law is no longer on Upton's website. However, it lives on in cyberspace.  The money quote from Upton:

Current incandescent bulbs on store shelves are obsolete and highly inefficient -- only 10 percent of the energy consumed by each bulb is for light with 90 percent wasted on unnecessary heat. Today's incandescent bulbs employ the same technology as the bulbs Thomas Edison first created over 120 years ago -- and it is well past time for the light bulb to catch up with 21st century technology. This common sense, bipartisan approach partners with American industry to save energy as well as help foster the creation of new domestic manufacturing jobs.

A lot has changed in the past four years. The Tea Party emerged and the efficiency standards were held up as an example of government overreach.  The freedom to use inefficient incandescent light bulbs became a Tea Party battle cry and Upton and others soon jumped on board. Last summer, House Republicans rushed a bill that would have rolled back light bulb efficiency standards, but it was ultimately rejected. The issue never died however and it ended up as a rider in the omnibus spending bill.

What it means for business

It's important to note here that the efficiency standards for light bulbs established in the 2007 law are technology-neutral. Lighting manufacturers were never forced to stop making incandescent bulbs -- they just had to make them more efficient. And they have.

Since 2007, lighting manufacturers including General Electric, Philips and Sylvania have retooled their factories and are making lights that look, turn on and light up like old school incandescent lights. These lights are sold at big box retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's. These companies also have developed LED and compact fluorescent bulbs, which are more expensive, but last longer than incandescents.

Lighting manufacturers aren't exactly happy with this latest turn of events. Companies have invested considerable money into lighting tech on the premise of the new standards. GE Lighting, for example, invested last year more than $60 million to expand manufacturing of energy efficient lighting at the company's plant in Ohio. At the time, GE said the expansion would help retain existing jobs as well as add 130 positions over several years at the Ohio plant.

Now that GE and others have made the investment, it's unlikely that they will revert back to the old school, inefficient incandescent light bulbs again. Some factories have already stopped making the bulbs. Meaning, this rider might slow down the introduction of energy efficient bulbs, but it certainly won't stop it altogether.

Photo: Flickr user Samantha Celera, CC 2.0

Related:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com