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Barton, Burgess and Blackburn Introduce Bill to Repeal Light Bulb Ban

Sep 29, 2010

Just as the last major factory in the U.S. making incandescent bulbs closes its doors, sending 220 workers to the unemployment lines,  U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Michael Burgess, R-Texas, ranking member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced H.R. 6144, the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act in an effort to repeal the ban on incandescent light bulbs.

Consider these remarks from the press release announcing the bill's introduction:

"Thousands of American jobs have been shipped overseas as a direct consequence of this light bulb provision in the Democrats' 2007 energy bill," Burgess said. "Further, I have stated all along that exposing our citizens to the harmful effects of the mercury contained in CFL light bulbs, which are being manufactured in China, is likely to pose a hazard for years to come."

"If the American people needed another example of why it is time to roll back the hyper-regulation of the past four years, this is it," Blackburn said. "Washington banned a perfectly good product and fired hard working Americans based on little more than their own whim and the silly notion that they know better than the American consumer." 

While it is wise to consider whether or not the government should be legislating consumer light bulb choices, it is a stretch to think that repealing the ban on incandescent bulbs would put thousands of Americans back to work. Demand for incandescent bulbs is shrinking as consumers are seeking energy and cost saving alternatives, such as CFLs. Although retrofitting the General Electric incandescent bulb factory to produce CFLs was cost prohibitive, the company did invest money to expand production of linear fluorescent lamps at a factory in Ohio, creating 135 new positions.

Also, while it is wise to understand the potential hazards of mercury contained in CFLs, it is not necessary to alarm the public with inflammatory claims of its danger. Here are some of the statements made in the release:

"CFLs contain mercury and have to be disposed of carefully. The EPA recommends an elaborate cleanup ritual, including throwing away any clothes or bedding that has come in direct contact with the mercury from the bulb."

Yes, CFLs have to be disposed of carefully, and the EPA recommendations should be acknowledged. However, the amount of mercury contained in the bulbs is small, a fraction of what used to be found in thermometers. Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs state that the risk is "negligible", posing as much risk as one bite of a tuna sandwich. The risk should be put in persepective with all the other exposure risks in our everyday lives.

"CFLs can raise your heating bills. They're not great for interior use in a cold climate, because they produce less heat than incandescent bulbs. So you save on electricity, but have to pay more in heating costs."

 This claim was the result of a study done in the cold regions of Canada. And seriously, how many Americans are relying on waste heat from light bulbs to warm their homes?

People with certain health conditions can be harmed by CFLs. Reactions range from disabling eczema-like reactions, to light sensitivities that can lead to skin cancer.

 People with no health conditions can be harmed by cigarette smoke and a host of toxic metals used in electronics. People with certain health conditions can be put in harms way by exposure to peanuts. Again, this needs to be put in perspective with all the other exposure risks in our everyday lives.

Also, CFLs are not the only alternative to incandescent bulbs. LED technology is advancing rapidly and becoming more mainstream and affordable. My suggestion to Mr. Barton, Mr. Burgess and Ms. Blackburn is if you want to roll back the hyper-regulation of the past four years, make a stronger case for bringing back the incandescent, or pick another battlefield.