Green Living: Light-Bulb Wars

The Tizzy Over Light-Bulbs

The idea of making the 100-watt incandescent bulb obsolete has sent conservative lawmakers, libertarians, environmental activists, owners of Easy-Bake Ovens and Stephen Colbert into a tizzy of activity.

The 2007 bill was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush. It is said to make incandescent light bulbs subject to strict efficiency standards next year. Many GOP critics claim that the law totally ban bulbs. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat clarified that the law only requires new bulbs to use 25-30% less energy beginning in 2012. He said the new bulbs last longer, use less energy and save money.

Lightbulb Freedom of Choice

This change in lighting standard will put better bulbs on the shelves and cut America’s electric bill by $10 billion a year. However in spite of improving energy standards, many Republicans members of Congress including Joe Barton, Mike Enzi and Michele Bachmann have decided this lighting upgrade is an assault on freedom and have introduced legislation to reverse the standards.  Bachmann, named her bill the “Lightbulb Freedom of Choice Act.”

They claim that the government overreach will limit consumer choice, destroy jobs, threaten health and even ruin childhood memories. Opponents of the regulations say the fluorescent bulbs are too expensive, flicker annoyingly and are health hazards because they contain mercury.

The Mercury Conundrum

Earlier this week, 'lighting expert' Howard Brandston, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources  in favor of a bill that would repeal light bulb efficiency standards. Brandston asserts that, "this 2007 light bulb standard brings a deadly poison into every residence in our nation."

Many environmental activists say that the mercury in a single fluorescent bulb is less than what some power plants throw up whilst generating electricity to light one incandescent bulb. Underwriters Laboratories, an independent product safety organization that has tested CFLs, says: "CFLs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing - approximately 5 milligrams - a hundred times less mercury than found in a single old-style glass thermometer. No mercury is released when the lamps are intact or in use and if disposed of properly, mercury in CFLs shouldn't be a safety hazard."

Exposure to mercury if a CFL breaks is equivalent to a nibble of tuna. The EPA recommends that consumers recycle CFLs but even if they end up in a landfill, the amount of mercury released wouldn't be much. For example,  if all 270 million CFLs sold in 2009 were sent to a landfill, they would only add 0.12%, to US mercury emissions caused by humans. Getting mercury poisoning from eating fish is more likely than from CFLs.

In spite of these clarifications, many consumers are stock-piling incandescents. Meanwhile, makers of light bulbs support the federal standards because they would not have to make varying products to meet individual state regulations. CFLs and LEDs are the latest in energy-saving technology. They are proven to reduce energy usage as well as pay for themselves even though their initial cost is higher.

The CFL-opposition needs to involve themselves in some real governance.

Photo Credit: Furhan Hussain ©. Rights Reserved. Reproduced with permission