Amy Ridenour: Congress shouldn't ban old-fashioned light bulbs

By Amy Ridenour

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Published: Sunday, Aug. 21 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — When General Electric blamed "a variety of energy regulations that establish lighting efficiency standards" for the closing of bulb factories in Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, it ignored a critical detail: It and fellow light bulb manufacturers Phillips and Osram Sylvania had lobbied for those restrictions.

Ignore claims about global warming. The motive behind the bulb ban was money: Incandescents have a low profit margin.

Let's shatter a few myths about today's flickering light bulb controversy.

Myth 1: "There is no light bulb ban." The most effective lie is one with a kernel of truth, and this example of that maxim is based on the fact that not all incandescent light bulbs are banned. Just the ones Americans buy most.

2012: Goodbye to standard 100 watt incandescents. 2013: Goodbye to standard 75-watt incandescents. 2014: Goodbye to standard 60- and 40-watt incandescents.

By 2020: Say goodbye to, among others, halogen incandescents, such as Phillips' EcoVantage.

These bulbs have been cited as proof there is no light bulb ban because the public will be able to buy them after January 1, 2012 — but only temporarily.

Myth 2: "Alternative bulbs are better." Alternative bulbs are different. Whether they are better depends on the consumer's needs.

Most of the alternatives use less energy. Some a lot less. However, people prone to seizures should avoid CFLs, as their flickering can cause seizures and seniors often find it difficult to read under fluorescents, while people with lupus and other auto-immune disorders can get a severe rash from fluorescents.

LED lighting tends to have a narrow beam, requiring more lamps to light a room. LED and CFL lighting are cooler than incandescent and renders colors differently. When Europe banned incandescents, art galleries and restaurants complained. The art didn't look right, and CFL and LED lighting aren't romantic.

Myth 3: "Alternatives to incandescents are just as safe." No. CFLs contain sufficient mercury for the EPA to recommend a tedious 10-11 step process for cleanup of broken CFLs. Consumers also are supposed to take discarded bulbs to a special disposal center rather than the household trash, but it is unlikely that most people are bothering. This places dangerous mercury in the air when the bulbs inevitably break in trash cans or garbage trucks.

LED bulbs contain lead, mercury and nickel, exposure to which increases your chances of getting cancer, kidney disease and other illnesses — although the danger is more long-term than immediate and one broken bulb shouldn't harm you.

Myth 4: "You'll save money." Most alternatives use less energy, some substantially less, although the bulbs cost more up front and don't last as long as consumers may expect. A CFL, for example, wears out sooner if it is turned on frequently, is used in freezing weather or is used with a dimmer.

LEDs have particularly expensive up-front costs now, although manufacturers say the price will come down after their main rivals have been banned for a while. They say that's because more will be sold; others say that's not how supply-and-demand works.

Myth 5: "The bulb ban creates jobs." In China, sure. Sevety-five percent of CFLs are made in China.

No major CFL brand is made in America. When the last remaining U.S. plant making ordinary incandescents closed in 2010, The Washington Post blamed the bulb ban.

Ban-backers say research into LED lighting made possible by the ban creates jobs, but many of these jobs came from tens of millions in research grants paid for by taxpayers, not the ban.

Defenders of the light bulb ban claim people are better off with alternatives to incandescents, but if the public agreed, Congress wouldn't need a ban to get us to switch.

Who knows the needs of your household better: You, or Congress?

Amy Ridenour is president of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research (www.nationalcenter.org). Readers may write to her at NCPPR, 501 Capitol Court NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.

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